China has no plan to establish a permanent presence at Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said on Wednesday.
“I believe I’ve just made it very clear. China has no such plan,” MOFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian said even as he maintained that Julian Felipe Reef (Niu’e Jiao in Chinese) is “part of China’s Nansha Islands.”
Commenting for the first time after the Philippines lodged two diplomatic protests against the continued stay of Chinese vessels at Julian Felipe Reef, Zhao stressed that the reef and waters around the area have always been an important traditional fishing ground and shelter for Chinese fishermen “for as long as a thousand of years.”
“It is completely normal for Chinese fishing vessels to fish in the waters and take shelter during rough sea conditions,” the Chinese official said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), however, denounced China’s “blatant falsehoods” such as claims of adverse weather conditions in the area when there was none, as well as its attempt to promote a false narrative of its “expansive and illegitimate” claims in the West Philippine Sea.
“Tradition yields to law whether or not it is regarded as traditional fishing,” the DFA said in flatly rejecting China’s claims, citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the July 2016 Arbitral Award in the South China Sea arbitration as the only norm applicable to the current situation.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines is firing another round of diplomatic protest against China for every day of delay of the Chinese vessels’ withdrawal from Julian Felipe Reef, an area situated 175 nautical miles from the town of Bataraza in Palawan.