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DFA chief taunts media: Go, fly over China stations

Singapore—Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. challenged Filipino journalists to verify reports that China has installed three weather stations in the disputed West Philippine Sea—even after the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced their installation last week.

DFA chief taunts media: Go, fly over China stations

“I don’t even know if there are weather stations. Apparently, media knows (sic) about it, but nobody else seems to,” Locsin said in a press conference during the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit here in Singapore.

Asked if the Duterte administration has made efforts “to at least verify” the reported installations, Locsin said the media will have to ask Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

READ: DFA probing China weather stations in WPS

“But I believe you should first verify it yourselves,” he said.

“If you heard that, it’s very easy to just fly over it. Don’t you have that capability? I mean that’s a story. That’s only my view, we can’t respond to something that just pops up in the Internet. Have you seen it? Apparently, it can be done by media,” said the DFA chief, a former TV host, and journalist.

Last week, the South China Morning Post reported that Beijing has started operating a maritime observation center, a meteorological observatory, a national environmental and an air quality monitoring station in artificial islands in the South China Sea.

“These projects are designed to observe the maritime, hydrological, meteorological conditions and air qualities, and provide such services as maritime warning and forecast, tsunami alert, weather forecast, air quality forecast, and disaster prevention and relief,” SCMP quoted an official from the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying in a press conference.

He said that China aims “to improve civil services and provide public goods and services to countries in this region.”

In response, Locsin said, he doesn’t understand what the media wanted him to do.

“Oh wow. There it is. You take their word for it then? Right? You do? I don’t get it. What do you want us to do? You mean, China announced it has put up weather stations? Fine, okay. And then?” he said.

He then said he didn’t think the weather stations were claims of ownership.

“There it is. Weather stations. I don’t think they’re claims of ownership, they’re claims of sovereignty. They’re weather stations. I’d have to ask, you know I’ll ask the military later what they feel about it,” he said, dismissing them as “a non-issue.”

“You guys claim there is a weather station out there. I suggest you guys fly there. Why not? That’s what I’ll tell you. That’s what I did as a journalist. When there was a conflict in Mindanao, I took my team into the battlefield on the way to Abubakar. That’s how we did it in the old days,” he said.

Locsin, who was the permanent Philippine Representative to the United Nations, also dismissed the idea of filing a diplomatic protest.

“When I was in the UN, they would keep asking me to file notes verbales. I said no, I call that notes verbiage,” he said.

“Every time you send a note verbale and no one responds to it, what does that look like? When you keep sending those notes—I know some people say, just keep on sending them—what I keep calling it is banging your head against the wall,” Locsin said.

Responding to critics who accuse the Duterte administration of failing to assert the country’s rights, Locsin said the Philippines is “absolutely not giving up” its rights over the contested waters.

“I have repeatedly said not an inch, not an iota of sovereignty. I keep saying it. I said it also in the UN,” he said.

“The critics are saying, if you don’t repeatedly assert it, you’re giving it up. They don’t know their law.

I’m sorry, you know, not everyone went to a good school,” said Locsin, who finished his master of laws degree from Harvard University.

Locsin said that while China did not react to the President’s call for self-restraint in the disputed waters, it did favor the push for a code of conduct to govern disputes in the area.

“China didn’t say anything. But the President was very clear: Let’s exercise restraint and there was no response, which is you can interpret it as you want but it was rather bold of our President to bring it up. The use of the word restraint,” he said.

Malacañang has announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit the country next week.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte himself invited Xi to undertake a state visit to the country from Nov. 20 to 21 this year, adding this will be the first state visit of a Chinese President in 13 years.

“During the state visit, the two leaders will exchange views on areas of mutual concern and chart the course for the future of Philippines-China bilateral relations,” he said.

Duterte earlier urged Southeast Asian leaders to work for an “expeditious conclusion” to negotiations with China on a code of conduct (COC) for the disputed South China Sea, a process Beijing estimated would take three years.

“Well, we are the country coordinator for Asean-China, I will try my best,” Duterte told reporters during the sidelines of the third day of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Singapore.

“I made a very strong statement yesterday about the urgent need for a COC so that everybody will know, because when you claim an ocean... then that is a new development in today’s world,” he said.

He also said that with the prickly ties between China and the United States, a “bad miscalculation” could lead to a conflict.

“China is there, that is a reality, America [is there]. Everybody should realize that they are there so if you just keep on creating a little friction, one day, a bad miscalculation can turn things,” he said.

He also said it was unwise to hold military exercises in the South China Sea.

“China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands. So why do we have to create frictions, strong military activity that will prompt the response from China?” Duterte said.

He said the Philippines would be the first to suffer if war broke out over the South China Sea.

“My country will be the first to suffer. That’s my only interest there. Nothing else,” he added.

On Wednesday, Li was quoted as saying that Beijing hopes its talks with Southeast Asian leaders will be finished in three years.

This means that the Philippines, as the Country Coordinator for the Asean-China Dialogue Relations, would be leading the discussions on the COC.

After skipping four out of the eight scheduled summit events on Wedensday, the President showed up just in time for the informal ASEAN-India Breakfast Summit. He also attended the 6th Asean-United

States Summit with US Vice President Mike Pence.

The Palace, meanwhile, lambasted Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano for portraying Duterte as showing “clear and submissive deference” to China during the ASEAN summit.

Panelo said Alejano was irresponsible because he didn’t understand what the President meant.

“What the President was saying is he wants to know exactly the sentiments of China so he can relay them to the members of the ASEAN because he is supposed to be the coordinator,” Panelo said.

In a Twitter post, Alejano said Duterte should “exercise caution” in making statements that imply capitulation to China’s whims or may compromise not only the Philippines’ but also Asean’s interest in the region.

Topics: Teodoro Locsin Jr. , West Philippine Sea , Chinese Foreign Ministry , 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit , Delfin Lorenzan
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