On China 'militarizing' Spratlys: 'Nothing we can do'
*Editor's note: A previous version of this story was based on a Reuters report. We made the necessary revisions after obtaining a transcript of the interview.
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr admitted that the Philippines cannot stop China if it is indeed "militarizing" the Spratly Islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).*
"There is nothing that we can do about that now, whether or not it is being done for purposes of further militarizing these facilities that they have put up," Yasay told reporters in Singapore.
"We cannot stop China at this point in time and saying do not put that up, we will continue to pursue peaceful means at which all of these can be prevented," Yasay added.
Yasay made these remarks when asked if the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs will issue a diplomatic protest or seek clarification from China regarding the reported "militarization" of the Spratlys.
Yasay was in Singapore to accompany Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who was there on a state visit.
Concerns of other countries
Yasay also said there are other countries like the United States, Japan, and the European Union who are concerned about the activities of China which could impact on the freedom of navigation and flight operations.
"Let them take whatever action is necessary in the pursuit of their national interest is concerned and we will leave it at that. For the Philippines, we have our bilateral engagements with China," Yasay said.
The Philippines will take no further action that will "heighten the tensions between the two countries, particularly in the Scarborough Shoal." The foreign secretary said efforts have paid off as Filipino fishermen, for example, now have free access and are able to fish in the disputed waters.
On Saturday, December 17, a source privy to the case, however, reacted to Yasay's statements: "If the Philippines does not formally protest, China can later claim that the Philippines consented, or at least acquiesced, to China's military fortifications in the Spratlys, including Mischief Reef."
A US-based think tank reported on Wednesday, December 14, that China has apparently installed "significant" defensive weapons on artificial islands in the Spratlys.
The latest images of the Spratlys, released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), showed a series of hexagonal structures now in place on each of 7 islets.
They appear to be large anti-aircraft guns and close-in weapons systems (CIWS), the AMTI said.
The construction of these facilities comes months after the Philippines, on July 12, won a historic case against China over the West Philippine Sea.
The July 12 ruling invalidated China's expansive claim over the disputed waters. – Paterno Esmaquel II, with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com