The Chinese research vessel Ke Xue was in Philippine Rise in late January not for exploration of the underwater plateau but for a long-term study of ocean current systems in collaboration with Filipino scientists, according to the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI).
UP-MSI said Chinese oceanographers from the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOCAS), were on the Ke Xue for a “three-to-six-day” cruise off northeastern Philippines to examine water properties, particularly “temperature, salinity and current.”
It just so happened that the location of the marine scientific research was Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, according to UP-MSI.
UP-MSI issued the “clarification” on Jan. 25 amid reports that China was exploring Philippine Rise, a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau off eastern Philippines believed to be rich in resources.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said China’s activity was “actually not for exploration of [Philippine] Rise” but part of a long-term, multination project called Northern Pacific Ocean Circulation and Climate Experiment.
UP-MSI said the experiment was an “international collaborative observational program” on the Pacific seaboard that Chinese oceanographers initiated in 2016.
The experiment studies the North Equatorial Current, a westward flowing body of water east of the Philippines, which divides the Philippine current into the Kuroshio Current (northward) and the Mindanao Current (southward).
The Kuroshio Current is “an important driver of the regional climate and even the El Niño [and] La Niña cycles,” UP-MSI said.
Batongbacal said that technically speaking, China did not violate any law in this particular activity, but he felt the Duterte administration was giving China undue “favor” by giving the impression that it was allowed to explore Philippine Rise.
“They (the administration) are promoting China, that’s the favor. They could have easily addressed this [issue] by laying down the facts,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.
UP-MSI said there had been no actual exploration yet of Philippine Rise. It said there had been an “assessment” but it covered only a small portion of the rise, which was the shallowest.
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