Q: We have seen Philippine media reports sensationalizing the passage of Chinese vessels for marine scientific research across waters near Benham Rise. What is your comment on that?
A: Given that the Chinese side attaches great importance to its relations with the Philippines, spokespersons of the Chinese Foreign Ministry have repeatedly expressed China’s position on this issue after such kind of reports emerged. Facts about this issue is clear. Since someones from the Philippines are still playing it up, I’d like to say a few more words about it.
First, Benham Rise is an underwater uplift plateau located to the northeast of the Philippines’ Luzon Island. In 2012, the 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. The Philippine side is entitled to carry out exploration and exploitation of natural resources in this region. The Chinese side fully respects the Philippines’ rights and interests over the Benham Rise region. There has never been and will not be any dispute over this region between China and the Philippines.
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 and 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 supported by international law. At the end of last year, Chinese vessels for marine scientific research did sail across relevant waters to the northeast of Luzon, the Philippines. Chinese vessels enjoy navigation freedom and the right to innocent passage. They did not conduct any operations or other activities.
Third, as neighbors facing each other across the sea, China and the Philippines have closely engaged in exchanges, and the two peoples have enjoyed friendship over generations. Since last year, thanks to the concerted efforts of China and the Philippines, the Sino-Philippine relations have witnessed all-round improvement, which serves the common interests and meets the needs of the two countries and two peoples and is also welcomed by the regional countries and peace-loving countries all over the world. China attaches great importance to the Sino-Philippine relations and cherishes the sound developing momentum of the bilateral relations. Going forward, China will remain committed to properly addressing relevant maritime issues together with the Philippines and creating favorable atmosphere for the healthy, stable and fast development of the Sino-Philippine relations as well as the progress of mutually beneficial and friendly cooperation in various fields.