MANILA – China said Philippines cannot declare Benham Rise as its own territory despite a 2012 ruling awarding the resources-rich waters as part of Philippine territory.
In a news conference, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang acknowledged the 2012 ruling of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approving the submission of the Philippines’ claim to Benham Rise.
However, Geng said “it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory.”
Geng confirmed Chinese vessels for “marine research” passed through Benham Rise, but insisted this was only in exercise of the principle of “freedom of navigation” and “right to innocent passage.”
“The remarks by some individuals from the Philippines are not consistent with the facts,” Geng said.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier raised alarm over the presence of a survey ship in Benham Rise, prompting Manila to seek clarification from Beijing.
Lorenzana last week said satellite imagery provided by allies had tracked Chinese vessels for three months last year in Benham Rise.
To the northeast of Luzon is the Western Pacific, where China is increasingly carrying out military drills.
President Rodrigo Duterte frequently praised China in his foreign policy pivot, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana remained openly suspicious, saying China has continued its fortification of man-made islands inside the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Lorenzana also raised doubts about Beijing’s explanation on the matter, noting that the Chinese ships staying in Benham Rise for months was no longer an exercise of freedom of navigation.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. - with AFP