China says has no dispute with Philippines over Benham Rise

BEIJING (Reuters) - China and the Philippines do not and will not have a dispute over Benham Rise, China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday (March 23), referring to a vast area the United Nations has declared to be part of the Philippines' continental shelf.

Earlier this month the Philippine defence minister said he believed China had conducted survey missions deep into the South-east Asian nation's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone in the Benham Rise, which sits off the Philippines' east coast.

China has already dismissed those concerns, saying its ships were simply passing through the waters there.

In a further statement carried on its website, China's Foreign Ministry said the whole issue had been "hyped up".

"China fully respects the Philippines' maritime area rights over the Benham Rise. On this point, there has not been, is not at the moment and will not be a dispute between China and the Philippines," the ministry said.

China and the Philippines had worked very hard over the past year to improve relations, and China set great store on this, it added.

China would continue to dedicate itself to "appropriately handling" maritime issues, the ministry said.

China is however involved in a dispute with the Philippines over ownership of islands in the South China Sea, even as both countries have dramatically improved relations since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office last year.

Duterte said earlier in the day he trusted China would not build anything on one of the disputed areas, Scarborough Shoal, because he was given its "word of honour" and Beijing would not want to jeopardise a new friendship.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.