Philippine President Benigno Aquino III yesterday denied reports he had asked the US for spy planes to monitor a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Aquino told reporters that his country had its own ships and aircraft to keep an eye on the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) and that he had merely mentioned in an interview that US aircraft could be called upon for help if needed.
“If you will go through the transcript of the interview, I said: ‘We might’ [ask for US help],” he said.
“That is where [the interviewers] suddenly introduced the supposed request for overflights, which wasn’t what I stated,” he said.
Aides said Aquino had made the remarks during an interview with a foreign news agency on Monday.
Subsequent reports of the president’s alleged requests for US spy planes raised concerns within China, with the country warning the Philippines against provocation over the three-month standoff between the two countries.
“Let us correct that. America is a treaty ally. Where we are lacking in capacity, I think we can go to them and ask that they increase [our] situational awareness,” Aquino said yesterday.
The shoal stand-off began in April when Chinese vessels prevented the Philippine navy from arresting Chinese fishermen encroaching on what the Filipinos claim is a part of their country’s territory.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of its neighbors.
In addition to the whole of the Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines also claims parts of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙島). It says the shoal is well within its 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone.
Taiwan also claims part of the Spratlys.
Aquino yesterday said that the Philippines had withdrawn its own ships from the shoal almost three weeks ago, but Chinese ships were still in the area.
“If their vessels had also gone home ... there would be no more issue. So who is prolonging the issue?” he said.
“There are a lot of things being said by the other side. Maybe they need to balance their statements with the truth,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Philippines announced yesterday that it had filed a diplomatic protest with China over Beijing’s establishment of a new prefecture called “Sansha” to administer disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said Sansha’s establishment violated Manila’s claim to the Scarborough Shoal and parts of the Spratlys, and the continental shelf and waters off the country’s western coast.
He told reporters the ministry was awaiting the Chinese government’s response to the protest.
Vietnam has also protested China’s action because of its claims to several islands and islets..
China’s Cabinet approved the establishment of Sansha last month to administer three major island groups in the South China Sea and the surrounding waters, with the government seat to be based in the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), which Taiwan also lays claim to.
Hernandez said Beijing’s decision contradicted a non-aggression accord signed by China and ASEAN in 2002 to prevent the territorial disputes from turning violent.
Additional reporting by AP