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South China Sea installations 'primarily' civilian: Li
By Glenda KWEK
Sydney (AFP) March 24, 2017


Manila could share maritime resources with China: Duterte
Manila (AFP) March 23, 2017 - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he was open to sharing resources with Beijing in flashpoint South China Sea waters over which Manila has been given exclusive rights by an international tribunal.

Beijing claims most of the sea, including waters close to the Philippine coast, despite the claim being declared as without basis last year by a United Nations-backed tribunal.

However, Duterte said the Philippines could not exploit the natural resources on its own.

"Even if I wanted to extract everything we do not have the capital. Even the (oil) rig and everything we can't afford it," Duterte told lawyers in Manila.

"I would consider sharing it."

Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino had challenged China's claim to control most of the South China Sea, despite counter-claims by several other nations.

The Aquino government in 2013 filed suit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. The tribunal ruled in favour of Manila last year.

However Duterte, who had taken office days before the tribunal ruling, has since reversed Aquino's policy and is seeking billions of dollars of investment and grants from Beijing.

Duterte on Thursday repeated earlier pronouncements he would not go to war with China over the disputed claims.

He said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed in Beijing last year that they would look to boost faltering trade ties that had been impacted by the sea row.

He said he also told Xi Manila would put off a discussion with Beijing on the Hague-based tribunal's ruling.

However, Duterte said the two countries would have to address the issue the moment China began to extract minerals in waters over which Manila has exclusive rights to exploit under the tribunal's ruling.

China is not militarising the disputed South China Sea, the country's premier said Friday in Australia, claiming defence equipment Beijing has installed on artificial islands is "primarily" for civilian use.

The sea is a source of growing regional tension, with Beijing insisting it has sovereignty over virtually all the resource-rich waters, which are also claimed in part by several other countries, and deemed international waters by most of the world.

"Even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment or facilities, it is for maintaining the freedom of navigation," Premier Li Keqiang told a press conference with Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra.

"Because without such freedom, or without stability in the South China Sea, the Chinese side would be among the first to bear the brunt of it."

China "never has any intention to engage in militarisation in the South China Sea", he said, adding installations -- which include airstrips and missile batteries -- are "primarily for civilian purposes".

Li said aircraft and ships that transit through the South China Sea were from trading partners with Beijing, "so one can easily imagine how many Chinese interests are at stake here".

Sydney-based independent strategic consultant Tim Johnston said the nations involved in the dispute, including China and other claimants such as Vietnam and the Philippines, were "being slightly disingenuous".

"You build up features in the South China Sea in disputed waters, you are likely to have to defend them, which implies some degree of militarisation," he told AFP.

"We have the photographs of what looks like military installations on a number of the islands that China occupies."

Li's comments that Beijing did not want to restrict navigation in the South China Sea was also to be expected as no country was seeking such an outcome, Johnston said.

Instead, it was China's need for a veto over activities in the waters that were contentious "in a region where nationalism is very raw and borders are undefined".

- Regional mistrust -

But he added the premier's remarks could be interpreted as an attempt "not to exacerbate the situation", at least for the current period.

"No-one is likely to back down publicly, but that's very different from not pushing forward. I think that's where we are.

Australia has followed key ally the United States in carrying out several so-called "Freedom of Navigation" over-flights and sail-bys in the region, which China previously described as "provocations".

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also said the building of artificial islands and possible militarisation by China create regional mistrust.

Turnbull reiterated his call for all parties to resolve their differences peacefully under international law.

"We encourage all parties to refrain from taking any actions which would add to tensions, including actions of militarisation of disputed features," he added.

Beijing last year vehemently dismissed a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that there was no legal basis to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea.

SUPERPOWERS
China denies plans to build on disputed shoal
Beijing (AFP) March 22, 2017
China Wednesday denied plans to build an environmental monitoring station on a disputed shoal near the Philippines' coastline, after a local official last week announced the plan. "As we have learned from relevant authorities, the report on establishing an environmental monitoring station is false. This is not true at all," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regula ... read more

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