Back-channel talks on after Chinese ships spotted in Scarborough


The Philippines said on Wednesday “back-channel talks” were underway to clarify the alleged presence of Chinese ships near a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

The Philippine government released pictures of the ships in the Scarborough Shoal area to the media just hours before Southeast Asian leaders, including President Rodrigo Duterte, met with Chinese Premier Li Leqiang in Laos.

“There are back-channel talks at this stage. We’ll just keep it there,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a televised press conference from Vientiane.

“It’s being clarified. It’s a back and forth,” he said. Asked if the talks were both through diplomatic channels and back-channeling, the spokesman answered: “Both.”

Duterte revealed the alleged sighting of Chinese ships last week and expressed concern Beijing could be planning another round of reclamation in disputed waters.

China has held Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone, since the end of a tense naval standoff in 2012. It has also built structures fit for military use on some reefs in the Spratly island chain.