Esperon: Philippines should protest China’s island-building in West Philippine Sea
MANILA, Philippines – National Security Adviser Hemogenes Esperon Jr. believes the Philippines should go back to protesting China’s building of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea rather than contesting every constructed facility they have built there.
“I think, for simplicity, we simply go back to our original protest. That of protesting the construction or building of an artificial island,” Esperon told INQUIRER.net in a text message on Monday night.
Esperon, who is also the chairman of Task Force West Philippine Sea, issued the statement after Chinese State-run Xinhua News Agency reported that China has built a maritime rescue center in the Kagitingan Reef, which is part of the Kalayaan Island Group.
Malacañang earlier said it would let Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. “address the issue” but Locsin said he would wait for the assessment of Esperon.
Esperon said many facilities have already been built on the reclaimed Kagitingan Reef, which Beijing calls Yongshu Reef.
“Kagitingan now has two harbors, an airstrip, and many buildings, among others. Without constructing anything else, it could be the HQs for rescue operations. Why, it could even be declared by the Chinese as an observatory or a marine cultured coral farm site. Or a drug rehabilitation center. Or a flying school,” he said.
“Now, which of those need to be verified? Which of the examples would you protest or contest? he asked.
Malacañang earlier said the Philippines should be “thankful” to China if it indeed built a maritime rescue center on the Kagitingan Reef.
“Maybe we should be thankful,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, as long as “it does not conflict with our sovereignty.”
China claims nearly all of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters close to the Philippines and nearby countries.
The Philippines won its arbitration case against China in July 2016, but President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to set aside the ruling as Manila pursued warmer ties with Beijing, which has been strained due to our maritime row. /muf
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