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Del Rosario off to China

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario will start meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing today (Thursday) and will remind them that Manila has territorial claim over Reed Bank, the site of huge gas deposits in Palawan as well as site of six Chinese incursions since the start of the year.

Del Rosario is in China for a two-day visit starting Thursday, upon the invitation of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

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President Aquino had said on Tuesday that one of the “main topics” that Del Rosario will take up with Chinese officials will be the “West Philippine Sea” as he underscored the importance for the country to “settle differences through talking rather than any other means” with China.

The President had said it was important for the country to “talk to everyone, especially enemies,” after Manila and Beijing squabbled over recent Chinese incursions in Reed Bank (also called Recto Bank), which is situated in Palawan and but is being claimed by China as part of its territory in the South China Sea (SCS).

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On Wednesday, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said that Del Rosario’s visit intended among other things, to “clarify our position with regards to Recto Bank vis-a-vis Kalayaan.”

Echoing Mr. Aquino’s statement in his speech at the 113th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs the other day, Carandang said that “no one had contested Reed Bank” before the implementation of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) during the Arroyo administration.

The JMSU, which was implemented in 2005, allowed the Philippines to jointly explore disputed areas in the South China Sea first with China and eventually Vietnam—both fellow claimants in the SCS, which the Aquino government now calls West Philippine Sea.

Carandang said that through the JMSU, a map was drawn up on disputed areas to be jointly explored and these included Reed Bank.

But he said the Arroyo administration allowed the JMSU to lapse in 2007 after a Palace opinion then stated that there was a law that required joint exploration activities in the level of governments to be done in consultation with Congress.

A source said the opinion was penned by then Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Merciditas Gutierrez.

That’s why Carandang and presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the JMSU “provided them the opening” to claim Reed Bank as part of its territory.

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In a press briefing, Lacierda said Mr. Aquino was just “putting things in perspective” when the Chief Executive blamed the Arroyo administration for the escalation of tension between the Philippines and China as a result of the implementation of JMSU under her watch.

“Remember, during the time of President Marcos, there was no issue of the Recto Bank being our part of the Philippines… That’s only before the JMSU was signed that we hear the Chinese claiming already… Recto Bank,” Lacierda said.

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TAGS: Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Chinese officials, Diplomacy, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, International relations, Reed Bank, territorial claim, two-day visit
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