China honors PH’s right

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SOTTO

The Philippines-China talks for joint exploration projects in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) gave Filipino leaders the realization that China recognizes Philippine ownership of some of the disputed islands.

In fact, Senate President Vicente Sotto III yesterday said he is keeping a “positive outlook” on the projects, being one of the top government officials with knowledge about the dialogues.

Sotto said high-level discussions between Manila and Beijing appear to the favoring the Philippines.

“I am privy to dialogue and talks within the Executive Department and slowly we are realizing the fact that it (China) agrees that those areas are ours,” Sotto said.

“And if there will be exploratory expeditions, we should know it. And we will be part of it. The discussion is 60-40 (sharing in favor of the Philippines),” he added.

Asked about the level of discussion happening between the two countries, Sotto replied: “President’s level.”

According to Sotto, the joint exploration was among the issues tackled during a meeting with President Duterte last 29 October. Sotto said he was with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan.

“I don’t want to elaborate. But there will be things that are coming out with good outcome,” Sotto said.

The planned Philippines-China joint exploration in the disputed West Philippine Sea was designed to work in the Philippines’ favor as it openly declared that it will not agree to any deal less than the Malampaya project. Government takes 60 percent from that agreement.

This development is coming ahead of China President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines next month.

Xi’s visit is expected to open talks between the two countries about concerns on the reported structure built by China in the contested Spratly Islands and other artificial land masses recently.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo confirmed the talks amid reports about China’s installation of anti-ship cruise and surface-to-air missiles at the Spratly Islands grew louder last week.

China is also said to be operating a weather station on artificial islands built in the disputed sea territories which the Philippines is also staking claims.

Xi is expected to make an official visit to the country next month and will pay the Philippine leader a courtesy call to discuss their still warm relations despite the two countries remaining at loggerheads over sea territories and islands also being claimed by their other neighboring countries, including Japan and Vietnam.

Top Chinese officials described Mr. Duterte as Xi’s “most respected friend” and this relationship between the two leaders could play a big factor in resolving the issues at hand.

But Malacañang is not backing off the issue of the reported military structures and weather stations built by the Chinese on the Spratly Islands, with Panelo saying government is not discounting the filing of a diplomatic protest if China had indeed placed weather stations and anti-ship cruise and surface-to-air missiles on the long-disputed islands.

“We may file a diplomatic protest if the report is correct,” Panelo said, adding validation is being made to ensure accurate talking points are made when Mr. Duterte discusses the matter with Xi.

In the end, Panelo said, it is the President who is the lone authority to decide on whether to raise before the Court of Permanent Arbitral Tribunal the concerns about China’s militarization of the islands.

China earlier had vowed it would not militarize the disputed territories.

The reported presence of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the contested Spratly Islands, however, is a serious concern for the Philippines.

Last May, China was said to have stationed missiles on Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), Subi Reef (Zamora Reef) and Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) — parts of the disputed territories which lie between Vietnam and the Philippines.

Former spokesman Harry Roque earlier had claimed the government was acquiring equipment to verify the deployment of missiles in the area. No update has been made since.

Panelo vowed to convene the Department of National Defense and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to discuss the matter before releasing an official report.

He said the security cluster will leave it to the judgment of the President who has repeatedly said there is a “right time” to bring up the Philippines’ concerns on its territories with China.

Xi’s meeting with Mr. Duterte could serve as the right opportunity to call out China on its movements in the WPS, according to Panelo.

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