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Philippines defends 'innocent passage' of United States warship near disputed shoal
23 January 2018, 01:37 | Bernice Figueroa
Roque: Fishermen's livelihood priority in Panatag Shoal
"No, the presence of United States warships in the area is not illegal".
USS Hopper sailing at sea.Chinese air patrol over vicinity of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, in background.
But Manila's Malacanang Palace said it did not want to be part of the latest spat between Beijing and Washington.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a statement, said Malacañang does not want to take part in the issue between the two world superpowers and believes the two countries can resolve it on their own.
"China will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty", foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after the USS Hopper came within 12 nautical miles of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea on Wednesday last week.
In 2016, the International Court of Arbitration ruled in the Philippines' favor, concluding that China had no historic claim to the Scarborough Shoal and other disputed islands and that their fishing, land reclamation, and construction activity had violated the Philippines' sovereignty. He has rejected planned joint patrols by the USA and Philippine navies in disputed South China Sea waters along with joint combat exercises that could offend China.
The US Embassy in Manila, referring to the "strategic point" description, clarified on Sunday that the US military presence in the area had to do with partnership with the Philippine military.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has carried out extensive land reclamation work on numerous islands and reefs it claims, equipping some with air strips and military installations that have alarmed rival claimant countries and Western governments led by the United States.
On January 17, USS Hopper, a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
In 2016, an worldwide tribunal ruled China's expansive claims had no legal basis, a finding welcomed by much of the region, but largely ignored by Beijing. China refused to participate and ignored the decision.
The Philippines' relationship with China has greatly improved since President Duterte's assuming office in 2016. -China and U.S. -Philippine ties - especially because the Philippines, which used to control the shoal, appears to have lost interest in contesting it.
"China has put it on record that near the 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 honour that commitment to us", Mr Duterte said in a press briefing at Davao International Airport. He has promised, however, to take up the arbitration ruling with China at a still-unspecified time during his six-year presidency.
China has matched Duterte's gesture by reportedly easing restrictions on Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal.
Asked if China's claim to Panatag is objectionable, Roque replied: "Well, let them make such claim".
"The problem of America today is no longer the problem of the Philippines", he added.
"Against this backdrop of peace and cooperation, a United States ship wantonly provoking trouble is singleminded to the point of recklessness", the article reads, arguing that U.S. naval activity is a hindrance to peace and stability in the South China Sea.
"The general thrust is to rely on the principle of good faith".
Ian Storey, an expert on the South China Sea and a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said the timing seemed calibrated to show China that the United States is now ready to "do something a bit different".
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