MANILA — Malacañang on Tuesday said the Philippines would have to rely on good faith that China would not use its largest dredging vessel to build on disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.
In a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte recognizes the principle of good faith in international relations.
“China has told the President, they do not intend to reclaim Scarborough and we leave it at that. We need to rely on good faith because otherwise there would be no predictability in international relations,” he said.
His comments were issued amid concerns that China may use its newly-launched Tian Kun Hao, dubbed by its designer as a “magic island-maker,” to create artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The giant dredger, which measures 140 meters long and 28 meters wide, is reported to be capable of dredging up to 6,000 cubic meters an hour and can dig as deep as 35 meters under the sea floor.
It is the most powerful vessel of its type in Asia.
Last March, Duterte announced that China gave its word not to build on the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.
The President said the assurance was made out of deference to the warming relationship between the Philippines and China.
Meanwhile, Roque said that the Philippines is not only relying on China’s assurance, but also on the fact that the Philippines had secured a decision from a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
“We’re not just trusting. We have a decision. And the last time I checked, that decision remains unchanged,” Roque said.
The Hague Tribunal found out that China’s claims of historic rights within the nine-dash line, which Beijing uses to demarcate its claims in the South China Sea, were without legal foundation.
The panel also concluded that Beijing’s activities within the Philippines’ two-hundred-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), such as illegal fishing and environmentally ruinous artificial island construction, infringed on Manila’s sovereign rights.
China has disputed the tribunal’s findings.
But while supporters of the Hague decision were urging Duterte to enforce the decision, the President chose to pursue peaceful means to resolve the issue in order to avoid confrontation with China, vowing however to raise it at the right time.
Duterte had also taken steps to mend ties with China, resulting in deeper and expanding relations with the superpower.
Roque pointed out that “it has been beneficial to our national interest to pursue cordial and very friendly relations with China” without relinquishing our claims to the disputed islands.
“I think, we are seeing new heights in terms of Philippine-Chinese relations and it has resulted in very tangible results particularly economic investments,” Roque said.