BEIJING • China yesterday labelled as "groundless conjecture" Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's allegation that Chinese survey ships had ventured deep into the Philippines' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and its continental shelf as a precursor to claiming the area.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made the remarks at a daily press conference in response to Mr Lorenzana's statement on Thursday that he was "disturbed" by the presence of Chinese vessels at various locations close to the Philippines in recent months.
Mr Lorenzana reportedly said that Chinese vessels were found near the Benham Rise, which is declared by the United Nations as Philippine territory.
Mr Geng said the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf approved the Philippines' application for a 200-sea-mile outer continental shelf limit in Benham Rise in 2012. Accordingly, the Philippines may exploit natural resources there, but it could not regard it as its territory, he added.
Mr Geng noted that the rights of coastal countries over their continental shelves does not affect the navigational freedom of foreign vessels or the right of innocent passage in territorial waters, according to international laws, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Mr Geng said some research vessels passed through waters off the north-east of Luzon Island last year and their activities were covered by the terms of "navigational freedom and innocent passage".
He also rebutted Mr Lorenzana's claim that China had cancelled a plan to reclaim land on Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) because of pressure from the United States.
He stressed that China and the Philippines have built good momentum in bilateral relations and excellent cooperation. "We hope some individuals in the Philippines will stop groundless conjecture and exaggeration, and do more to contribute to enhancing mutual trust and development of bilateral relations," Mr Geng said.