Philippines to protest China's plan to build on disputed shoal

MANILA • The Philippines intends to file a strong protest against China after it announced preparatory work for an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal, a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, said a Cabinet minister.

China started blockading Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop within the Philippines' 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone five years ago.

The United States has warned Beijing against carrying out land reclamation work there.

Justice Minister Vitaliano Aguirre said yesterday that Manila would file a complaint against Beijing's plan to install a radar station on the shoal. "The case which will be filed is fairly strong I think," he added.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the country would take necessary action to defend and protect its sovereignty in the disputed maritime borders. "President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly asserted that the Philippines is not giving up its claims and our entitlements over the area," he added.

The mayor in charge of the administration of disputed South China Sea islands and reefs which China controls said last week preparatory work was being planned this year to build monitoring stations on a number of islands.

Asked on Sunday for his response to the report of a radar station to be built on Scarborough Shoal, Mr Duterte said: "We cannot stop China." He added that going to war with China was pointless.

Until late last year, China had coast guard ships guarding the shoal and stopping Filipinos from tapping its vast fish stocks. But an international tribunal ruled last year that Beijing violated Manila's entitlements and no country has sole rights to fish there.

Just days after Mr Duterte visited China last October and heralded a new era of ties, Filipinos returned to fish unimpeded at the shoal's periphery.

Mr Aguirre said the Philippines would renew its strong ties with Washington in the face of China's aggressive action in the shoal, which is 124 nautical miles from the nearest coast of the main island of Luzon. "As a matter of fact, we're strengthening the relationship with the United States," he told reporters.

Last month, former foreign minister Perfecto Yasay said the US had dissuaded China from reclaiming the shoal.

China has put missiles and radar on some of its seven man-made islands in another part of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. The US has stressed the importance of free navigation in the sea, through which more than US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade passes each year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Philippines to protest China's plan to build on disputed shoal'. Print Edition | Subscribe