Philippines Cautiously Stakes Claim Over Benham Rise
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has given a cautious warning to China over his country's undisputed ownership on Benham Rise amid reports that several Chinese survey ships were spotted in the undersea region last year.
"My order to my military, you go there and tell them straight that this is ours, but I say it in friendship," Duterte said in a news press conference. He added that "I cannot match the might of China," stressing that Philippines has no option but to negotiate with China diplomatically.
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China and Philippines spat over Benham Rise started last week after Filipino defence chief, Delfin Lorenzana, accused that satellite images provided by one of its allies had spotted Chinese survey ships at Benham Rise between July and December last year.
Lorenzana also accused that several Chinese ships had been recently spotted within Manila's jurisdiction of the contagious South China Sea region. The defence chief claimed that Chinese warships were spotted in 70 miles off its western coast in the disputed maritime territory.
In response, China termed Lorenzana's allegation completely baseless as the Asian giant claimed that its ships have every right to conduct navigation in these waters. "But this is purely carrying out normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage, and there were no so-called other activities or operations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, told a regular news briefing.
Beijing also did not hesitate in confessing that its survey ships indeed navigated through Benham Rise last year. The Benham Rise was declared to be part of Philippine continental shelf in 2012 by the United Nations (UN), giving Filipino the exclusive right to fish and exploit resources in the undersea region.
However, the Benham Rise has rarely been a flashpoint between Beijing and Manila, with most of the tension concentrated on the disputed South China Sea region. However, much of the tension on the contagious maritime territory has subsided thanks to Duterte's ambitious efforts to revamp Philippines foreign policy.
The efforts have led to new found bonhomie between Manila and Beijing, while Manila's traditional ally U.S. has been left in lurch. Last year, Duterte's visit to China herald a new chapter in Beijing and Manila's bilateral relationship, which has rarely been normal owing to their competing clams over South China Sea region.