CHINA attempted to restart its territorial reclamation at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in South China (West Philippine) Sea last year but was stopped by the United States, the Philippine Department of Defense revealed on Thursday, March 9.
“There was a plan by the Chinese in June to reclaim Scarborough Shoal. We received a report from the Americans that there were barges already loaded with soil and construction materials going to the Scarborough Shoal,” Philippine Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana disclosed during a forum.
He went on to say, “But the Americans, I think, told the Chinese, ‘Don’t do it.’ For some reason, the Chinese stopped.”
According to Lorenzana, the reclaiming of the Scarborough Shoal is a “red line” for both the U.S. and the Philippines.
The defense chief noted that “once the Chinese start exploring and putting rigs,” the Philippine government “will talk to them.”
Also known as Bajo de Masinloc, the Scarborough Shoal is located 230 (140 miles) kilometers west of Zambales, which overlaps with the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Earlier in January, the United States, under the new administration of President Donald Trump, vowed to prevent China from claiming ‘international territories’ along the contested waters.
The U.S. also said that China should be denied access to the islands it has built along the disputed maritime areas.
The Chinese government, for its part, called on the U.S. to stop meddling in the Asian territorial affairs since the latter is ‘not a party’ to the maritime disputes.
Since the standoff in 2012, China has been exercising control at Scarborough shoal, claiming its “historic rights” based on the “nine-dash line.” As a result, Filipinos have been unable to fish there, straining the relationship between the two countries.
China also reportedly built artificial islands along the disputed waters for military purposes.
In July 2016, the arbitration tribunal at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines and concluded that China’s claim of sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis and violates UNCLOS, a treaty signed by both the Philippines and China.
The Chinese government, however, refused to acknowledge the ruling.
But under the new leadership of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in July 2016, Manila started to seek a warmer relationship with Beijing.
Recent reports claimed that several Filipinos were now able to fish “unmolested” at the disputed area, following Duterte’s visit in Beijing in October last year.
Lorenzana, however, assured that Duterte will not give up the country’s maritime claims.
“There is a misperception among us, the Filipinos, that the President set aside the ruling. That is not true. He said, ‘Huwag lang natin pag-usapan (Let’s not talk about it) for a while… to allow our people to go back to their livelihood,” Lorenzana said. (Dana Sioson/AJPress)