Philippines to 'seek clarification' on Chinese construction in disputed waters

Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on Thursday said the Philippine government would seek clarification on China's intention in building structures in the disputed areas of the South China Sea during the two nations' upcoming bilateral talks in May.

"We would have to ask what is the intention in building these (structures), because these can be used for civilian or military. That's why we have to seek clarification on what is this all about," Manalo said in an interview with ANC Headstart.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday announced that Filipino and Chinese officials will hold a "bilateral consultation mechanism" hosted by China to discuss issues regarding the sea dispute.

China, which has nearly completed construction work on three Philippine-claimed reefs, has always favoured bilateral talks with each claimant instead of multilateral talks with all parties involved.

Asked if the Philippines would assert the United Nations-backed international ruling that rejected Beijing's claim to almost all of the South China Sea, Manalo reiterated the stand of President Rodrigo Duterte to raise the tribunal decision "in the appropriate time."

But the acting foreign affairs secretary noted that developments like ongoing construction would be taken up in the bilateral talks.

"We also have to look at this in our approach to the issue of South China Sea. The Philippines is fully committed to seeking a peaceful resolution of the disputes… Basically, the President has been very clear about the arbitral ruling that for the meantime we would be setting it aside with China, but he would raise it at the appropriate time," Manalo said.

"We would be mentioning these developments but we will be pointing out these constructions taking place within our exclusive economic zone… What we would try to say is that we should avoid measures which would tend to raise tension," he added.

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