Manila warns Beijing over provocation
24 Feb 2017 - 0:00
Manila: The Philippines' top diplomat said yesterday any move by China to transform a Manila-claimed shoal into an island would be a "game-changer" in blossoming relations, although he added that Beijing has pledged not to undertake any construction in the strategically located area of the South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr said any Chinese construction in Scarborough Shoal would be "a very serious, provocative act" that would undermine the Philippine claim to the rich fishing area.
China has turned seven mostly submerged disputed reefs into sprawling islands, including three with runways, in the last three years.
The actions have alarmed China's rival claimants and the US, especially after reports that Beijing was installing missile systems on man-made islands.
"If they would do that, that will really be a game-changer," Yasay replied when asked in a news conference how President Rodrigo Duterte's friendly demeanor to China might change if China undertakes construction or turns Scarborough Shoal, which lies off the northwestern Philippines, into another island.
"There seems to have been a threat before or a perception that they were going to build, in fact, there were intelligence reports coming from the Americans that they were poised to send dredging vessels precisely to convert this ... shoal into an artificial island," Yasay said, but he added he did not expect China would take such a provocative step.
"Now we are happy and assured of the fact they will not do so," he said.
Five months after Duterte made a state visit to China, Yasay disclosed for the first time that Chinese President Xi Jinping had told Duterte during their meetings that China had no plans to build on Scarborough.
"The assurance was part of efforts by the Asian neighbors to rebuild ties that led to Filipino fishermen regaining access to the shoal last year," he said.