Duterte banks on China promise on Sandy Cay, Scarborough

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he was holding China to its promise “not to build anything” near Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys and on Panatag Shoal.

Speaking to reporters at Davao International Airport after arriving from a two-day trip to Japan, Mr. Duterte confirmed that he discussed maritime security and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“China has put it on record that near Pag-asa where we also have our … the Scarborough island, China has committed to us not to build anything there and I hope that they would honor that commitment to us,” Mr. Duterte said.

Scarborough Shoal is the international name of Panatag Shoal, a rich fishing ground off the coast of Zambales province that China seized after a two-month maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012.

Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) is the biggest island controlled by the Philippines in the Spratlys.

Chinese watch

In August, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned that Chinese vessels, including a Coast Guard ship and two fishing boats, were guarding Sandy Cay, a sandbar located 4.5 kilometers from Pag-asa Island.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua assured Mr. Duterte, however, that China would not build structures on Sandy Cay.

“I hope and I pray. I do not want to create something here, which is not good for us … for all of us,” Mr. Duterte said.

“Yes, for us, once I commit to you as a President of a sovereign state, what comes out of my mouth is what it is. It is always a commitment with honor, anything less than that you lose the respect,” he added.

Ruling on a case brought by the Philippines after China seized Panatag Shoal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague last year ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

The arbitral court said China’s claims infringed on the Philippines’ rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters in the South China Sea within the country’s 370-km exclusive economic zone.

After coming to power, however, President Duterte decided not to press China on the arbitral ruling, preferring to mend relations and strengthen economic ties with Beijing.

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