Manila backtracks on South China Sea accusation against China

MANILA Wed Oct 23, 2013 6:24am EDT

Philippines' President Benigno Aquino answer questions during a Foreign Correspodents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) forum at a hotel in Manila October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Philippines' President Benigno Aquino answer questions during a Foreign Correspodents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) forum at a hotel in Manila October 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Wednesday the concrete blocks found on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea are "very old", backtracking on Manila's earlier accusation that China was building new structures in the area.

In an embarrassing twist after foreign affairs and defense officials had accused China of preparing to build new structures on Scarborough Shoal, a group of rocks about 120 nautical miles off the coast of the main island of Luzon, Aquino said the blocks found within the shoal "are not a new phenomenon" and "some of them have barnacles attached to them."

Friction over the South China Sea, one of the world's most important sea lanes, has surged as China uses its growing naval might to assert a vast claim over the oil-and-gas rich area more forcefully, raising fears of a military clash between it and other countries that border the area.

The Philippines is also fighting an unprecedented arbitration case under the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea against China's claims and has ignored growing pressure from Beijing to scrap the action. Any result will be unenforceable, legal experts say, but will carry considerable moral and political weight.

Aquino also said he does not share some analysts' views the Philippines has lost control over the shoal, saying local fishermen can still freely go there.

"We are not allowed to go to Scarborough Shoal seems to be an oxymoron...there's no rule that says we can't go there," the president told foreign correspondents in Manila, insisting the disputed area is within the country's exclusive economic zone.

Last month, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a congressional hearing that China had violated a non-binding code by preparing to build new structures on Scarborough, showing lawmakers surveillance photos of the rocks.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told Reuters in an earlier interview the government will file a diplomatic protest against China, saying Beijing was moving to occupy the shoal.

China denied the accusation and accused the Philippines of deliberately stirring up trouble over disputed waters in South China Sea, insisting Scarborough is Beijing's "intrinsic territory".

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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Comments (3)
prastagus wrote:
PRobably due to successful Chinese diplomatic trips recently to APEC countries, except to Phillippine, that caused a softer tone of Aquino. China got agreements from Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and even Vietnam on South China Sea joint exploration. Phillippine is alone.

Oct 23, 2013 12:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Free_Pacific wrote:
The Philippines has the E.U, U.S, India, Australia and large numbers of smaller states backing their decision to seek arbitration at UNCLOS. That’s hardly ‘alone’. Alone is China refusing to defend the undefendable action, of expanding it’s borders at the expense of it’s neighbours. Instead claiming ‘indisputable’ sovereignty, like a giant shadow, over the peaceful nations of the Pacific.

Oct 24, 2013 5:46am EDT  --  Report as abuse
prastagus wrote:
Free_Pacific, actually Phillippine do not such backings as no one officially said anything about it. They only sit and watch and see how will it turn out.

China refusing to defend the undefendable action? If you saying because those islands are further away from China than to the other South Asian nations, they do not belong to China, then you are ignorant in basic logic and understanding.

Ownership is not based on distance but history otherwise USA cannot own Hawaii, Guam, etc.. Britain cannot own Falkland, Diego Garcia, etc.. EEZ only applies once territory is settled. So whatever Phillippine is doing in the Tribunal can only, at its best, can only force China to clarify and redraw their lines around individual islands and reefs, while doing nothing to their claim of ownership of the islands and reefs itself.

Oct 24, 2013 3:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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