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Philippines to ask China to clarify its intentions in disputed sea

12 November 2017, 02:20 | Austin Hogan

Philippines to ask China to clarify its intentions in disputed sea

Philippines to ask China to clarify its intentions in disputed sea

Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a stop to the construction of nipa huts on a sandbar near the Philippine-controlled Thitu Island in the Spratly chain after being briefed on an agreement with China.

"China who is there, who controls the passage must come up with a code of conduct".

The rift over the tiny sandbar, where Filipinos planned to erect fishermen's shelters, in the group near Philippine- occupied Thitu island in the Spratlys archipelago remains unresolved but both sides pledged not to occupy any new territory, he said.

U.S. Navy ships have also carried out freedom of navigation patrols in the area, angering China, which says the territorial issues should be handled directly between countries in the region.

President Duterte and President Xi shake hands during the former's visit to Beijing in May 2017.

Duterte has courted Chinese trade and assistance and taken a nonconfrontational approach to their territorial disputes.

Although the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in July past year by invalidating China's claims in the South China Sea, Duterte has chosen to set aside the ruling to cultivate closer ties to its giant neighbor. "It would be something like a scramble there because if China concedes to one, Philippines, it has to concede to the others", Duterte said.

"It is not wrong for me to tell China".

"We brought up people there to occupy, to put up structures for our fishermen", Lorenzana said.

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He said the sandbars were now empty and that Manila was not anxious China would occupy them in turn.

Philippine foreign affairs and military officials refused to divulge details of the dispute at Sandy Cay in August.

The Philippines has pressed ahead with $25 million of upgrades to Thitu island. "There are batteries. Meaning, the arms are poised to fly", he said.

The Chinese military presence off Sandy Cay sparked concerns in Manila.

Duterte repeated that if he will engage China, he will have to engage all the other claimants in the disputed waters.

The administration has been downplaying the situation in the West Philippine Sea "while China continues to push us into the corner", he added.

But, he added that, as this year's chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, "I have to carry the voice of ASEAN" and "tell the truth that everybody is anxious". The framework is to serve as a roadmap for negotiations on a so-called code of conduct in the often-volatile waterway.

Since coming to office 16 months ago, the firebrand leader has been conciliatory to Beijing, despite a ruling from an global arbitration court favouring the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China.



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