In a startling claim, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday said China’s leaders intimated during top-level talks recently that “they do agree that those areas” in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) “are ours.”
Without elaborating as he had no authority to speak for the President, Sotto said there were looming positive developments in confidential talks between Manila and Beijing on easing tensions in the disputed waters.
“I’m not too sure if I’m at liberty to inform you, guys, but perhaps as a general statement … I am privy to dialogue and talks within the executive department and leaders [of China], and slowly we are realizing the fact that they do agree that those areas are ours,” he said.
“And if there are any exploratory expeditions, it should be with the concurrence of the Senate, of the Philippine government … it would be a 60-40 [split]. That’s all I can say,” Sotto told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.
Asked how high the level of discussions were, he said: “Presidents’ level.”
“All I can say is there are developments indicating positive output from China,” he said.
Sotto made the claim as he played down reports that China had built weather stations on three Philippine-claimed reefs, where it had constructed artificial islands.
The South China Morning Post, quoting Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, reported the installation of weather stations on Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban (international name: Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief, respectively) reefs.
All three reefs are in the West Philippine Sea, the region in the South China Sea within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.