- The Chinese government insist the Philippines cannot claim territorial rights to Benham Rise
- It also admitted that Chinese vessels did sail in the area but denied doing any operation as alleged
- Also, a Chinese official said ‘friendly talks’ have been held between the two countries in January to sort out the issue
MANILA, Philippines – China has responded to a Philippine Defense official’s remarks about Chinese survey ships being spotted in Benham Rise last year which could spark another diplomatic tension between the two countries already saddled with the maritime conflict in the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry admitted that vessels for marine research did sail across the Philippine waters but insisted they were only “exercising navigation freedoms and the right to innocent passage” without conducting operations or activities.
Also, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang maintained that the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as part of its territory despite the United Nations officially recognizing the area as part of the country’s continental shelf in 2012.
“First, in 2012, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the submission made by the Philippines in 2009 in respect of the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Benham Rise region, enabling the Philippines to carry out exploration and development of natural resources in this region. But it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory,” Geng said in a statement.
“Second, according to international law including UNCLOS, a coastal state’s rights over the continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters or of the air space above those waters, nor do they affect foreign ships’ navigation freedom in the coastal state’s EEZ and on the high seas, or their innocent passage through the coastal state’s territorial sea as supported by international law,” the Chinese official added.
Additionally, Geng said there were “friendly exchange of views” already between the two governments in January; precisely to address and sort out the matter.
The Chinese official also slammed certain ‘individuals’ in the Philippines for ‘playing up the false information’, and assured that the two countries “have properly resolved their differences, added momentum to the development of the bilateral relationship, and driven forward practical cooperation across the board.”
Benham Rise is a 13-million hectare submerged region, rising 2,000 kilometers above the sea floor, located approximately 250 kilometers (160 miles) off the coast of Isabela.
After the Philippines filed its claim over the region, the UN has officially recognized Benham Rise as part of the country’s continental shelf. No country has ever laid claim to Benham Rise except the Philippines.