Duterte bans foreign research at undersea plateau
By Agence France-Presse
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has banned all foreign scientific exploration on a vast undersea plateau claimed by Manila, his spokesman said Tuesday, now that China has completed its research there.
Authorities announced three weeks ago that the president had allowed China to conduct research at Benham Rise off the country’s Pacific coast, despite the two nations’ decades-old maritime disputes elsewhere in the region.
Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said the president ordered an end to all foreign research in the area at a cabinet meeting Monday after Chinese scientists completed their expedition.
“The president ordered that henceforth only Filipinos will be allowed to conduct scientific research… and explore and exploit for natural resources in the Philippine Rise,” Roque told reporters, using the local name for the area.
The 13-million-hectare (32-million-acre) underwater land mass, believed to be rich in maritime resources, lies 250 kilometres (155 miles) off the east coast of the main Philippine island of Luzon.
In 2012 the United Nations recognised the Philippines’ exclusive economic rights to Benham Rise as part of its continental shelf.
Roque added that all other foreign research permits were now revoked, including 26 issued to US, Japanese, and South Korean organisations.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol added that Duterte had directed the Philippine Navy to “chase out” any foreign vessels fishing or conducting research in the area.
The move banning foreign research comes as Duterte faced fresh criticism for failing to stop China’s militarisation of artificial islands built by Beijing over reefs and rocks in the South China Sea.
Opposition politicians and legal experts alleged this was tantamount to giving up Philippine territory.
“The president does not kowtow to any other country,” Roque said Tuesday.
China and the Philippines have had a long-running dispute over competing claims in the South China Sea to the west of Luzon. Parts of the waterway are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino had forcefully challenged China in diplomatic and legal circles over the South China Sea dispute, but Duterte has changed course since he was elected in mid-2016 in a bid for billions of dollars worth of Chinese investment.(AFP)