Sun, Oct 05, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Philippines halts S China Sea work

AFP, MANILA

The Philippines yesterday said that it has shelved planned improvements on a military airstrip in the disputed South China Sea to support its bid for a UN ruling against Beijing over the tense territorial confrontation.

The Philippines infuriated China in March by asking a UN tribunal to declare Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea a violation of international law.

China claims almost all of the sea, a vital avenue for world trade that is also believed to harbor vast oil and gas reserves.

However, its claims overlap in parts with those of Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte said that the government had suspended long-planned upgrades on a military runway in the disputed Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) to boost chances of a favorable ruling at the UN.

“We wanted to maintain the moral high ground in light of the case we filed at the [UN] arbitration tribunal regarding the West Philippine Sea,” Valte said, using the Filipino name for the area.

“We chose... to ease tensions and avoid any incident that may be construed as ramping up tensions or trying to provoke any of the claimant countries,” Valte said yesterday over Philippine government radio.

The small runway lies on Thitu Island (Jhongye Island, 中業島), the largest of several islands and reefs in the Spratly group that are garrisoned by Filipino soldiers, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.

China has refused to take part in UN arbitration with the Philippines and told Manila that bilateral ties would suffer.

Valte dismissed suggestions that suspending the airstrip project would allow China to ramp up its increasingly assertive efforts to stake its claims in the South China Sea.

“In our view, it will not weaken our position,” she added.

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