MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday confirmed Chinese presence on Philippine-claimed Quirino Atoll off the country’s northwestern coast, but ruled out permanent occupation of China in the area.
Citing initial reports from defense authorities, the DFA said that two weeks ago, Chinese Coast Guard vessels were sighted in the Quirino atoll and that there are no more sightings of Chinese vessels in the area as of today.
“The Department is monitoring reports on the situation on the ground and reiterates its call for China to exercise self-restraint from the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes in the South China Sea and affect peace and stability in the region,” a DFA statement said.
In a separate interview with journalists, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said reports that China has seized Quirino Atoll, also known as Jackson Atoll, is inaccurate.
“According to reports, they are not there today so the theory about occupation may not be accurate because if they are occupying they should be there,” Del Rosario said.
Quirino Atoll is located 180 nautical miles off Palawan and well within the country’s exclusive economic zone as allowed by the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea signed by 163 UN member-states, including China and the Philippines.
China’s claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety, including areas that fall within Philippine territory.
Beijing’s claim is based on its unilateral nine-dash-line theory that encompasses almost the entire South China Sea – an assertion that Manila says are illegal, excessive and a violation of international laws.
The resource-rich waters is home to a chain of more than 100 islands, shoals, reefs and coral outcrops and straddles one of the world’s most vital sea lanes. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping sea claims.
Competing claims have sparked occasional violence and now regarded as a potential regional flashpoint for armed conflict.