PH fears 'incident' with China after 'standoff' in Pag-asa Featured

PH fears 'incident' with China after 'standoff' in Pag-asa

MANILA – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday, November 8, expressed concern over possible "incidents" with China in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as he revealed a two-month-old "standoff" with Beijing in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island.
Lorenzana made the statement while addressing the ASEAN Leadership Forum in Makati on Wednesday, which was attended by representatives of country ambassadors and representatives of think tanks and the academe.
Lorenzana the regional maritime dispute in the South China Sea is "one of the most serious issues" that affects ASEAN and pushes for the immediate completion of a binding Code of Conduct that will rule country engagements.
"I foresee that there could be some incidents. The presence of their Coast Guard, the fishermen who are actually militias of their Coast Guard and the PLA Navy could [result in] encounters with our fishermen as well as our Coast Guard," Lorenzana said.
He expressed this concern after he told the participants about a "standoff" in Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island about two months ago, although he would later downplay this incident in an interview with reporters at the sidelines of the forum.
"There was a standoff in Pag-asa a couple of months back," he said in his speech. Lorenzana said it happened when the Philippines attempted to put structures on one of the sandbars near Pag-asa Island, where about a hundred Filipinos are residing.
"We tried to put some structures in one of the sandbars near our island and the Chinese reacted.....The President said, 'Let's pull out,'" the defense chief said.
When asked about the incident after his speech, Lorenzana told reporters the "standoff" referred to diplomatic exchanges between Manila and Beijing. He denied that an actual incident happened in the island.
Lorenzana said the tension eased, apparently after the President's order was carried out. Lorenzana said China also assured the Philippine government that it will not occupy new features in the South China Sea.
China reportedly argued the sandbars are considered "new features" covered by the "modus vivendi" between Manila and Beijing, where they cannot have new construction.
It is the subject of debate. There are those who argue that the sandbars are traditional fishing grounds of Filipino fishermen from nearby Pag-asa Island.
Lorenzana's revelation also comes a day after President Rodrigo Duterte promised to discuss the situation in the West Philippine Sea with Chinese President Xi Jinping
Duterte said he hopes China will honor its commitment not to build in the disputed maritime territories. – Rappler.com

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