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Duterte: I trust China won’t build on shoal

/ 01:27 AM March 24, 2017

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President Duterte on Thursday said he trusted China would not build anything on Panatag Shoal because he was given its “word of honor” and Beijing would not want to jeopardize a new friendship.

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“Let me tell you now, I was informed that they would not build anything on Panatag. Out of respect for our friendship, they will stop it. They will not touch that. According to China, ‘Do not worry, we are friends,’” Mr. Duterte told a news briefing at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the early hours of Thursday after arriving from visits to Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand.

“‘We will build nothing there’—that was the assurance given by the Chinese government. They are not going to build anything … because they do not want to jeopardize our friendship,” he said.

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‘Word of honor’

China, he added, “has a word of honor.”

He did not specify when he received the assurance.

Mr. Duterte’s remarks came after China denied reports that it would build environmental monitoring stations on six islands in the South China Sea, including Panatag Shoal.

Internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag Shoal is located 230 kilometers off the coast of Zambales province, well within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea known as West Philippine Sea.

China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, seized the shoal after a two-month standoff with Philippine vessels in 2012, forcing Manila to question Beijing’s claim at the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The tribunal found for the Philippines and ruled in July last year that China’s claim had no legal basis and that it had violated the Philippines’ rights to fish and explore for resources in waters within its EEZ.

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China rejected the ruling, insisting it had “undisputed sovereignty” in the South China Sea, but offered to settle rival claims through bilateral negotiations.

Rapprochement

Mr. Duterte sprang a surprise last year when he took office and opted to pursue rapprochement with Beijing after years of bitter squabbling.

He visited Beijing last October and returned home with billions of dollars in Chinese pledges of investment.

On Friday, the official Hainan Daily quoted the top official in Sansha City, which administers China’s island claims in the South China Sea, as saying preparations were under way for the construction of environmental monitoring stations on the six islands.

Sansha Communist Party Secretary Xiao Jie, the mayor of Sansha City, told the paper that the preparatory work on the stations was among the Chinese government’s priorities for 2017.

Mr. Duterte caused a stir on Sunday when he said he could not stop China from building on Panatag Shoal because it was a military power.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio suggested on Monday that Mr. Duterte order the filing of a strong protest against China’s plan.

On Wednesday, Acting Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo told Filipino reporters in Bangkok, where Mr. Duterte was visiting, that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had asked China to clarify its reported plan to build on Panatag Shoal.

Not true

On the same day, Hua Chunying, spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, told a news briefing in Beijing that the reports were “mistaken” and “not true.”

China does what it says, Mr. Duterte told reporters at the airport on Thursday morning.

While China is claiming Panatag, he said he asked Beijing not to impede Philippine movement in the area.

Chinese ships can enter Philippine territory as long as the Chinese inform the Philippine Navy and the DFA, Mr. Duterte said. —WITH A REPORT FROM THE WIRES

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TAGS: China-Philippines relations, Panatag Shoal, Rodrigo Duterte, Scarborough Shoal, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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