MANILA

PH 'thankful' with China's 'rescue center' in South China Sea

DESPITE long-standing disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea, the Philippines was "thankful" with China's move to build a maritime rescue center on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the contested waters, Malacañang said on Thursday, January 31.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said there was nothing wrong with China's establishment of a maritime rescue center in the South China Sea, if the facility is meant to provide support to rescue missions.

"Maybe, we should be thankful. That could help seamen in distress in that area. It can help everybody," the Palace official said in a press conference, when sought for reaction on the opening of a maritime rescue center on China's artificial islands in the disputed waters.

"Kung alam natin na wala namang makakasira doon sa claim natin at tutulong sila sa lahat ng mga nangangailan ng tulong, eh dapat nagpapasalamat tayo (If we know that it will not affect our claim and China will offer assistance to those who need help, let's be thankful)," he added.

China opened Tuesday, January 29, a maritime rescue center on Kagitingan Reef, one of Beijing's occupied man-made islands in the South China Sea, in a bid to "better protect navigation and transport safety," Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported.

The Ministry of Tranport, as quoted by Xinhua, said the center was meant to offer better support to maritime rescue operations.

"The center will offer better support to maritime rescue operations in the souther part of the South China Sea," the ministry said.

China's relentless build-up in the busy waterway came despite the July 12, 2016 decision of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, favoring the Philippines' petition to invalidate Beijing's claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

China, which claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling.

For Panelo, China's latest establishment of a maritime rescue center was "not bad," since it would be "helping everybody in distress."

"We'll give them the benefit of the doubt... Tignan muna natin (Let's wait first). Let's not jump into conclusion yet," Panelo said.

"When you say you're thankful, kung halimbawa natayo na 'yun at talagang tumutulong, dapat magpasalamat na tayo sa mga ibang bansa na tumutulong sa ibang bansa din (When you say you're thankful, if for example, it's already built and really helpful, we have to thank the country helping other countries)," he said.

The Palace official, nevertheless, said the Philippine government would file a diplomatic protest, once China makes "inconsistencies" with regard to its establishment of the maritime rescue center.

He specifically said the Duterte government would oppose China's installation of the center, if it is indeed not meant to provide support to rescue missions.

"If we see anything that will be inconsistent with what they're saying, then we will make [appropriate actions]," he said.

"Yes, of course, the government will always protest on anything that intrudes into our sovereignty... We will certainly take action, initially, it's always a diplomatic protest," he added. (SunStar Philippines)


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