China: We respect Philippines' rights over Benham Rise

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that China has no intention of challenging the Philippines' rights over Benham Rise. FMPRC/Released

Beijing clarified that it fully respects the Philippines' rights over the continental shelf in Benham Rise following reports about Chinese survey ships cruising near the region.

"I wish to reiterate that China fully respects the Philippines' rights over the continental shelf in the 'Benham Rise' and there is no such thing of China challenging those rights," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a press briefing Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had described China's latest move as "very concerning" and ordered the Navy to drive away the service ships.

President Rodrigo Duterte, on the other hand, said that those were just research vessels and have not intruded the country's territorial waters.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry welcomed the remarks of Duterte and stressed that China and the Philippines had a "friend exchange of views" on the matter.

Hua stressed that under international law, China can enjoy freedom of navigation in the region.

"But the basic principle of international law says that the [exclusive economic zone] and the continental shelf do not equate with territories, and a littoral state's exercise of rights over the continental shelf should not hamper such rights as freedom of navigation enjoyed by other countries under international law," Hua said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry noted that the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China is developing with "sound momentum and practical cooperation."

"From China's point of view, we attach great importance to the good neighborly and friendly partnership with the Philippines, and stand ready to work with the Philippines to implement the two Presidents' consensus of 'upholding good neighborly and friendly cooperation, appropriately handling differences, and pursuing common development,' bear in mind the larger picture of bilateral relations, continue to enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust, deepen friendly cooperation, and strive for the continued, sound and steady development of bilateral relations," Hua said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang earlier said that the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as its own territory despite the award of the United Nations (UN).

READ: China: Philippines can't claim Benham Rise

In 2012, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the submission of the Philippines with respect to the limits of its continental shelf in the Benham Rise region.

A large part of the Benham Rise is within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines. An additional area of seabed extending around 150 nautical miles was claimed by the country as its extended continental shelf.

University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Director Jay Batongbacal said that the region may not be in the same sense as a land territory, but is a territory for the purposes of the country's laws and regulations over natural resources.

"The 1987 Constitution considers as legally part of the National Territory all areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction; Benham Rise falls squarely within this definition," Batongbacal said in a Facebook post. - philSTAR
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