From Update.Ph (Mar 10): China invokes ‘freedom of navigation’ in Benham Rise
China’s Foreign Ministry today made a statement regarding revelation of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that a Chinese survey ship was monitored plying the Benham Rise last year for at least three months.
During today’s press briefing, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson in Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that their vessels navigated northeast of Luzon last year. However, he said that they were just exercising freedom of navigation. He added that no other operations were made.
The Chinese spokesperson also said that in 2012, a United Nations body granted Philippine government’s claim that Benham Rise is part of Philippines’ continental shelf.
He said that the award limits the Philippines to explore natural resources beneath Benham Rise but cannot treat it as its sovereign territory.
Article 77 Paragraph 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) says “the coastal State exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.”
Further, Article 78 Paragraph says “the exercise of the rights of the coastal State over the continental shelf must not infringe or result in any unjustifiable interference with navigation and other rights and freedoms of other States as provided for in this Convention.”
“I think it was monitored for about three months going there, so I have ordered the Navy that if they see this survey ship this year start to accost them and driving them away also from the eastern side of the Philippines,” Secretary Lorenzana said in a media event March 9.
The National Defense chief added that a report reaching him claims the Chinese could be looking for a spot for its submarines.
Former National Security Adviser and former Philippine Navy officer Roilo Golez is calling on the Philippine government “to file a very strong protest against the presence and the visit of the Chinese survey ship in Benham Rise.”
“They cannot claim innocent passage, because Benham Rise is not part of the traditional sea lanes. Walang dahilan para nandoon iyong survey ship,” Golez said.