China claims Spratlys within its territory, as Malacanang pushes back

MANILA (UPDATE) – China on Thursday maintained its claim on Spratlys Islands or Nansha Islands, unfazed by stern warnings issued by the Philippine government recently.

“The Nansha Islands are within China’s territory, for which we have sufficient historical and legal basis,” said Chinese Foreign Minister spokesperson Lu Kang during a press conference on Thursday.

Lu added that the rights of Chinese fishermen who have been fishing in the said waters in the South China Sea for thousands of years should not be challenged.

Malacanang on Wednesday made it clear that China has no business in the country’s exclusive waters. 

Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the Philippines will remain friendly with respect to trade relations with China but will always assert sovereignty when it is being impaired or assaulted.

Some Chinese vessels have been spotted near Kota Island and Panatag Island last March 28. Last month, the military reported that over 600 Chinese vessels have been circling Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in the West Philippine Sea since January this year.

Lu said that while they have taken note of the remarks made by Philippine officials, China’s belief is that “relevant disputes related to the South China Sea shall be resolved through negotiations between China and countries directly concerned including the Philippines.”

“We are committed to upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea in concert with other regional countries.”

Philippine authorities have raised concerns over China’s activities in the South China Sea, particularly militarization efforts, which Beijing has denied.

Manila in 2016 won a ruling from a UN-backed tribunal which invalidates China’s sweeping 9-dash line claim over the disputed waters but Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.
 
Lu meanwhile gave credit to both leaders saying “China and the Philippines have returned to the right track of properly handling and resolving the relevant disputes through negotiation and consultation.”

He added that the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and steady progress has been made in consultation on the Code of Conduct (COC).

“The China-Philippines relationship has experienced a turnaround, been consolidated and elevated to a comprehensive strategic cooperative one. This positive momentum is hard-won and shall be all the more cherished. 

The Chinese official enjoined the Philippines in managing the South China Sea, upholding peace and tranquility on the sea, and bringing more benefits to the two peoples.

“We hope that the Philippine side will join us in strictly implementing the important consensus reached by the two leaders on properly resolving the South China Sea issue and safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.

Malacañang, in a statement, said the Philippine government remains “steadfast” in its claim in the West Philippine Sea.

“It is our principled stand that the peace in the West Philippine Sea should be maintained and that China should avoid performing acts that will place at risk the Filipino fishermen fishing in the disputed areas and at the same time cause irritants that will disrupt the current friendly relations of the two countries as well as imperil future bilateral negotiations on matters of mutual concern,” Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

“As a matter of protocol, we expect our Philippine counterpart, the Department of Foreign Affairs, to issue an official statement on the matter.”

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