MANILA, Philippines – Chinese Foreign Vice Minister Liu Zhenmin’s visit to President Duterte at Malacañang last Tuesday was merely to reaffirm bilateral commitments, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday.
Abella said the note verbale issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs against the presence of China’s weapons systems in the disputed South China Sea did not crop up during the visit of the top Chinese official.
“It’s simply coincidental,” Abella told reporters when asked if the President discussed the matter or if Liu defended Beijing’s construction in the disputed waters, which has worried some Philippine officials.
Abella said Liu’s visit was a continuing effort to boost confidence-building measures between Beijing and Manila – which Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on during Duterte’s China state visit last October.
“Let me just read to you the visit proceeds on the agreement made between the President and President Xi Jinping during the former’s state visit to China on the 21st of October 2016, wherein both sides affirm the importance of existing Philippine-China bilateral dialogue mechanisms in enhancing, understanding, broadening cooperation and striving for a stronger relationship,” Abella said.
“It was simply a resumption. It says the resumption of these bilateral dialogue mechanisms suspended during the previous administration is a significant development that allows for the building of confidence through regular dialogue along official lines,” Abella stressed.
“In other words, this is the first meeting in three years. So it’s part of a regular process,” he added.
At the same time, the Palace echoed the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana of concern on the presence of weapons systems in the Spratlys.
Quoting the statement of Lorenzana issued last Tuesday, Abella said “the actions of China in militarizing those disputed features are troubling.”
“Despite warming relations between our countries, we will be remiss in our duty to protect the national interest if we do not protest, question and seek clarification from China on the presence of weapons in the Spratlys, especially so that some of those reclaimed islands are within Philippine exclusive economic zones according to UNCLOS and affirmed by the PCA ruling on the 12th of July, 2016,” he said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands.
AFP: No more tension at West Philippine Sea
The Chinese Navy in the West Philippine Sea no longer harasses the Philippine Navy and even Filipino fishermen, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the country’s soldiers continue to watch over and “guard areas that are ours.”
“Our watch is in accordance with our Constitution because we have a mandate to protect our sovereignty and territory. That stays and has not changed,” Padilla said in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday.
Padilla also revealed that tension in the disputed waters has eased in the past months, with Chinese authorities no longer harassing Filipinos.
“If you notice, encounters in the area are no longer that aggressive because we have had talks to lower the level of tension,” he said.
Padilla said the Chinese Navy no longer blocks the re-supply operations to BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungion Shoal.
“Tension has somewhat eased there and no blocking has so far been done by the other side,” he said in Filipino. He noted, though, the continuing Chinese presence in the area. – With Michael Punongbayan, Edith Regalado