China respects Philippines’ rights in Benham Rise

Posted on April 05, 2017

CHINA reiterated that it respects the sovereign rights of the Philippines in Benham Rise, Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo said yesterday.

File photo of Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo -- KRIS JOHN ROSALES / PHILIPPINE STAR
He made these remarks when asked about Beijing’s reply to the notes verbale sent by the Department on Foreign Affairs (DFA) that sought an explanation to reported sightings of Chinese vessels in the area.

“China first of all reaffirmed that they recognize the sovereign rights of the Philippines over Benham Rise,” Mr. Manalo said during the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines forum yesterday. “That was clearly stated and was also mentioned that they have no dispute with the Philippines on that area because they precisely our sovereign rights as was laid down in the decision of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf.”

In 2012, the UN Commission recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the 13-million undersea plateau as part of the nation’s extended continental shelf.

Mr. Manalo clarified that there are areas near the Benham Rise which are open to innocent passage, fishing, and research without the need to seek permission from Manila.

However, he said that “sometimes, you have to pinpoint a certain area and say you’re allowed here but in another area you’re not.”

Requests to conduct research from other countries, including China, would be granted but only if they meet the following conditions set by the Philippines, which include the participation of at least one Filipino scientist in the study and sharing their findings with the Philippines.

In a Senate hearing last week, DFA Acting Executive Director for the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office Maria Lourdes B. Montero said that the Philippines had received requests from China to conduct research in the area in 2015 and 2016, but they were denied.

Asked if he found the response of China “acceptable,” given that the Philippines has a territorial dispute with the country over certain features in the South China Sea, Mr. Manalo replied in the positive.

“I would be very happy with the reply they say that they recognize we have sovereign rights over Benham Rise. It’s quite clear that any time that they will seek to go to that area to explore they need our permission,” Mr. Manalo told reporters.

The official also noted the “positive” progress towards the creation of the framework of the Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea between Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) states and China.

The Philippines maintains that the CoC should be legally binding, he said, even though China entertains the opposite view regarding the CoC’s legal applicability.

“What I can say is that the Philippines and China are now trying to improve their relationship, we’re trying to have a better relationship and we’re trying to have a movement to that,” the Foreign Affairs Secretary said. “But at the same time we recognize that there are differences between us and we will of course have to acknowledge that.”

In its latest press briefing last March 31, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Spokesperson Lu Kang reiterated Beijing’s respect for and recognition of the Philippines’ rights over Benham Rise.

“China is willing to engage in marine cooperation, including joint scientific research, with friendly countries like the Philippines, so as to bring benefits to people,” Mr. Lu added. “We are willing to maintain close communication with the Philippine government over relevant issues.” -- Lucia Edna P. de Guzman