The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday clarified Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s earlier comment that China is no longer reclaiming land in the disputed areas of West Philippine Sea.
The agency’s statement came after Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Amti-CSIS) released satellite photos of China’s reclamation work on Tree Island and North Island in the Paracel Islands.
“The remarks of the Honorable Secretary of Foreign Affairs during the press conference at the end of the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings on Tuesday must be taken in its full context,” the DFA statement said.
“The position of the Philippines is to always reflect the current situation in the West Philippine Sea and the foreign policy direction of the Philippines—which is not to surrender a single inch of Philippine territory while at the same time working towards good neighborly relations with other claimants—is always based on the latest intelligence we have on the ground,” it added.
The statement pointed out that Cayetano already explained that when the Philippines engaged in talks at the Asean event, it did not receive prior reports of island-building in the disputed areas.
“(Cayetano) agreed with the other Asean Foreign Ministers that concerns over land reclamation would still need to be reflected in the Joint Communique, in consideration of the probability that land reclamation may still be occurring or may yet occur in features in the South China Sea outside of the Philippine claim,” DFA said.
The agency said that “While there have been land reclamation activities that have taken place in the Paracels in the previous months based on the Amti report, the same report did not indicate that such activity was taking place just prior to the AMM.”
It said the agency will carefully study and verify the report.
DFA Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar also told reporters that “in the immediate months when (they) were preparing for AMM, PH did not receive any reports of island building or land reclamation.”
The agency said the Philippines, as this year’s Asean chair, wanted to “ensure that the Joint Communique reflected the interests of the region and the ASEAN consensus.”
“As such, the Joint Communique reflected the recent developments which promote confidence-building and contribute to reducing tensions in the region, such as the adoption of the Framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and the operationalization of the Foreign Ministry-to-Foreign Ministry Hotlines and application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea,” it said. JPV
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