China does not need to reclaim the Scarborough Shoal, the top Chinese diplomat in the Philippines said Thursday night.
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua was reacting to the statement earlier issued by Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that China may reclaim the disputed shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc, during the last three years of President Duterte’s term.
“Contrary to what he (Carpio) claimed, we do not need to reclaim it,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said at the sidelines of the 70th founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in Makati City.
Asked to comment on Beijing’s sincerity and commitment to the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, Zhao said they cannot discuss at the moment the COC, “only right after we finalized it.”
“It’s a long process. What he (Carpio) said is not valid because COC is not China’s COC. It is between China and members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” he explained.
To further debunk Carpio’s claims, the Chinese envoy said they are committed to maintaining peace and stability in the highly disputed waters of the South China Sea and the region “in the next three hundred years.”
On Wednesday, Justice Carpio said China may reclaim Scarborough at the time when it is ready to sign the COC with the regional bloc where some of its members, including the Philippines, have competing claims in the South China Sea.
“We all know they have a plan and they may do that before the end of the term of President Duterte because that is the time they will also sign COC after they finished the reclamation. They will say, ‘let’s sign the COC. Nobody builds anything anymore. ‘Everything will freeze and that would legitimize what they’ve created: the artificial islands,” Carpio told journalists participating in the maritime media seminar sponsored by the United States embassy in Manila.
On April 8, 2012, a standoff between the Philippines and China occurred at the Scarborough Shoal over the Philippine Navy’s apprehension of eight mainland Chinese fishing vessels in the area. Both countries sent military vessels in the area, prompting the United States to mediate.
Although the Philippines withdrew its Navy vessels from the shoal in compliance with the US-initiated agreement, China, however, did not abide and instead maintained its presence in the area, effectively militarizing it.
Located in the West Philippine Sea, the Scarborough Shoal is located about 221 kilometers from the town of Palauig, Zambales, west of Subic Bay, well within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Maritime law expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea (IMLOS) said all compiled documents, including Republic Act 9522 or the Philippine Baseline Law, clearly show the Philippines’ “indubitably absolute sovereignty over the area.”