Thu, Aug 16, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Duterte calls on Beijing to ‘temper’ island building


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte late on Tuesday urged China to “temper” its behavior in the South China Sea in a rare criticism of Beijing over its program of island-building in disputed waters.

China has alarmed and angered its neighbors by claiming most of the South China Sea and building a string of artificial islands and military airbases, but Duterte — keen to court trade and investment from Beijing — has mostly avoided criticizing China.

In a change of tone, Duterte said in a speech to business entrepreneurs that China had no right to claim airspace above artificial islands.

Philippine officials have said that military pilots are repeatedly warned off by Beijing as their planes approach Philippine-held Thitu Island (Jhongye Island, 中業島), which lies beside a Chinese air base built on top of Subi Reef (Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁).

“You cannot create an island. It’s man-made and you say that the air above this artificial island is yours,” Duterte said, according to a transcript released by the Malacanang Palace yesterday.

“That is wrong, because those waters are what [one] would consider international sea and the right of innocent passage is guaranteed,” said Duterte, who did not refer to any specific incident.

He added that he did not want to “quarrel” with China.

There was no immediate response from the Chinese embassy in Manila.

In May, China landed several combat aircraft — including the long-range, nuclear-capable H-6K — at another island airfield in the sea for the first time, triggering international concern.

Despite this, it has denied militarizing the area, through which about one-third of all global maritime trade passes.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016 ruled that China’s claims to the area have no legal basis.

The US Navy has forcefully asserted its right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, repeatedly sailing close to the artificial islands and drawing Chinese protests.

Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also have claims in the sea.

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