THE Philippine government is seeking China’s clarification to reports it plans to build an environment monitoring station on the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, putting to test recent efforts to rebuild ties between the two countries.
Inquirer quoted presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella as saying Saturday that the Philippines has contacted China for a response to the matter.
“We are seeking information from Chinese authorities to clarify the accuracy of the report,” he was quoted saying in a text message.
Foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose gave a similar response, noting that the report has yet to be verified.
The officials were referring to Hainan Daily’s report quoting Sansha Communist Party secretary Xiao Jia as claiming that China will begin preparatory work this year on the station. Xiao Jia is also the mayor of Sansha City, said to be an administrative base for the disputed South China Sea islands.
Reuters, citing the Chinese daily’s report, said the monitoring stations planned on a number of islands including the Scarborough Shoal, “form part of island restoration and erosion prevention efforts planned for 2017”.
Following the report, the Philippine Supreme Court’s Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio sounded a warning to the government, saying without intervention, China may impose an “air defense identification zone” and end up controlling all of South China Sea.
The waterway is a major shipping route where an estimated US$5 trillion of trade passes through annually. It is home to the Paracels and Spratlys – the two main island chains that a number of claimants have interest in, and where there is said to be reserves of untapped natural resources.
Other areas in the dispute include dozens of rocky outcrops, atolls, sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal. The interests of nations involved include demands to retain or acquire rights to fishing areas; the exploration of potential crude oil and natural gas; as well as the strategic control of important shipping lanes.
“A radar station on Scarborough Shoal will immediately complete China’s radar coverage of the entire South China Sea.
“China can then impose an ADIZ or air defense identification zone in the South China Sea,” he said in a statement, according to GMA News.
Carpio was part of the Philippine legal team during arbitration proceedings against China in The Hague.
“These developments call for a national debate, and consensus, on how the nation should proceed with its bilateral relations with China,” Carpio added.
Philippines and China have been locked for years in a territorial dispute over control of the South China Sea. But in July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered a ruling on the protracted dispute that sent ripples not just in the region but across the world.
In the case filed over three years ago by the Philippines, the international court ruled in favour of the applicant, saying China had no legal basis to claim “historic rights” to the South China Sea. The court also accused China of infringing on the Philippines’ sovereign rights through its interference with fishing and petroleum exploration and through the construction of artificial islands.
In its immediate reaction, a furious China said it “does not accept and does not recognise” the award it categorised as “null and void and has no binding force”. It insisted that any resolution should be reached via bilateral negotiations with claimants.
But while the issue remains a thorny one, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte controversially said last year he would “set aside” the ruling because he did not want to impose on China. The decision was in keeping with his administration’s bid to mend its relationship with China as it bade goodbye to ties with the US.
The president, however, has given his assurance that he will revisit the issue during his term.