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Palace: No breach of good faith in China ‘militarization’ of Kagitingan Reef

There is “no breach in good faith” on the part of China as far as Malacañang is concerned, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Tuesday, amid the supposed militarization of the Kagitingan Reef or Fiery Cross in the disputed South China Sea.

“When we say we are relying on China’s good faith, it is because China has committed not to embark on new reclamations,” Roque said in a press briefing.

“Kagitingan is one of the islands that it had already reclaimed…When we invoke the good faith of China, it is against making further reclamations and not making further works on islands that it had already reclaimed,” he added.

Malacañang, meanwhile, backed the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that a diplomatic protest should be filed if it will be proven that China has deployed soldiers and weapons on the Kagitingan Reef.

“Of course, that’s the proper remedy,” Roque said.

The Defense Department has said that it will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a diplomatic protest if it will be proven that China has deployed soldiers and weapons on the Kagitingan Reef or Fiery Cross in the South China Sea.

“We are going to urge [the DFA] to make a protest if we can see that the Chinese are militarizing the area na very near our place, Fiery Cross is very near Reed Bank, malapit din ‘yan sa ating barko na nakasadsad doon, sa Sierra Madre,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said after the turnover rites at the Army's Special Operations Command in Nueva Ecija on Monday.

“Our stand is we will continue to establish, register our protest through the Department of Foreign Affairs,” he added.

He cited that the Chinese government had said it is not going to militarize reclaimed islands in the South China Sea.

“Remember those were not islands before, those were just reefs but they are now islands. According to them, they are not militarizing and it was for peaceful purposes only like tourism," Lorenzana said.

Asked about the protest, China's foreign ministry spokesman said the construction was on the country's territory and was intended to aid peace in the region, as well as maritime safety and disaster prevention.

"Of course, China also needs to construct necessary defense equipment for its territory," the spokesman, Lu Kang, told a regular briefing on Tuesday. "The relevant equipment is not directed at any particular country."

China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been courting Beijing in hopes of winning business and investment.

China has assured the Philippines it will not occupy new features or territory in the South China Sea, under a new "status quo" brokered by Manila as both sides try to strengthen their relations.

China has denied U.S. charges that it is militarizing the South China Sea, which also is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The reef has a hospital with more than 50 doctors, high-speed mobile connections and an airport with a runway of 3,160 meters (3,456 yards) to serve what Beijing calls a "weather station" equipped with radar, Chinese state media say.

In the last 27 years, China's navy has sent more than 1,000 soldiers to guard the reef, state media have said.

“[That’s] certainly not okay because, of course, it constitutes a further threat to peace and security in the area,” Roque said.

“The fact that they are actually using it now as military bases, as far as I’m concerned, is not new, new. It’s not news. Because we’ve always been against the militarization of the area,” he added.

When asked if there are plans from the government to recover islands reclaimed by China, Roque said: “We have plans which we can’t discuss.” —with Amita Legaspi/KBK/JST, GMA News with a report from Reuters