PHL, China in back-channel talks over presence of Chinese ships in disputed shoal – Palace exec

MANILA — A senior Palace official disclosed Wednesday that the Philippines and China are engaging in back-channel talks regarding the presence of several Chinese vessels near a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

In a televised press conference held in Vientiane, Laos, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the issue is being clarified.

“There are back-channel talks. At this stage, it is an ongoing conversation, so it would be best to leave it there,” Abella said.

Earlier, the Philippine government has released to media attending the ASEAN meet photos of several Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), which lies about 198 km. west of Subic Bay, Zambales.

The photos were taken by Philippine military aircraft during overfly missions last September 3.

Abella said the photos were released to the media to let others know that the Philippines is very much aware of current developments in the disputed waters.

“Basically, it’s simply to announce that we are aware of all and any movements in the area,” Abella said.

In Manila, defense officials said Wednesday the presence of the ships is a precursor to the possible building of structures in the area.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has decided to release the information to the public after learning that the number of Chinese ships in Scarborough Shoal has increased.

The defense chief earlier said that there are 10 Chinese ships in the area, with four looking like Chinese Coast Guard ships, four similar to barges and two resembling troop ships.

China gained control of the Scarborough Shoal after a tense stand-off with Philippine Navy units in 2012.

Its maritime law enforcement units have been consistently driving away Filipinos they spot in the area.

Last July 12, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China’s claim over its “historic rights” to the West Philippine Sea and also pointed out that its ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ claim has no legal basis. PNA/