The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday sought to shed light on Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s remarks in which he echoed claims of China that it had stopped reclamation work in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea two years ago.
In a statement, DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said the Philippines did not receive any report of island building or land reclamation prior to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Ministerial Meeting held in Manila early this month.
Cayetano’s statements during the press conference at the end of the Asean Ministerial Meeting and Related Meetings on Tuesday “must be taken in its full context,” said Bolivar.
The DFA issued the statement after Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Amti-CSIS) released satellite photos, dated Aug. 5, of China’s reclamation work on Tree island and North Island in the Paracel Islands.
These islands were being disputed by Vietnam and China.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on the sidelines of the ministerial meeting that Beijing had stopped its land reclamation in the disputed sea.
The DFA statement said: “The position of the Philippines is to always reflect the current situation in the West Philippine Sea and [its] foreign policy direction—which is not to surrender a single inch of Philippine territory while at the same time working toward good neighborly relations with other claimants—is always based on the latest intelligence we have on the ground.”
Malacañang said the Philippines would leave it up to Asean to decide on a course of action once the photos are verified.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the accuracy of the photos should be checked first to preserve the trust and confidence that the claimants have in each other.
“The continuing reclamation and militarization of disputed territory in these waters, if the report and photos… are accurate, these can be taken up in Asean, by the Asean in future discussions,” Abella said.
The DFA statement said Cayetano agreed with the other Asean foreign ministers that “concerns over land reclamation would still need to be reflected in the joint communiqué, in consideration of the probability that land reclamation may still be occurring or may yet to occur in features in the South China Sea outside of the Philippine claim.”
It also said that while the Amti report showed that land reclamation activities may have taken place in the Paracels in the previous months, the same document did not indicate that such activity was taking place prior to the Asean meeting.
The primary goal of the Philippines, as chair of the Asean Ministerial Meeting, was to ensure that the joint communiqué reflected the interests of the region and the consensus of the neighboring countries, it said.
Cayetano earlier admitted that the Philippines had not wanted to mention land reclamation and militarization in the South China Sea in the Asean statement because “It’s not reflective of the present position.” —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA
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