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Manila bucks China naming of Benham features

THE Philippines will protest China’s decision to name five undersea features in Philippine Rise (Benham Rise), saying it will not recognize the move approved by an international organization, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.

“We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise,” Roque said in a statement.

In 2014, China submitted names for consideration by the International Hydrographic Organization, an intergovernmental organization which aims to ensure the world’s waters are surveyed and charted.

The IHO approved one name in 2016, the other four in 2017 and these are the Jinghao and Tianbao seamounts 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan province, the Haidonquing Seamount further east, and the Jujiu Seamount and Cuiqiao Hill, which form the central peaks of the undersea geological province.

The presidential spokesman said that the Philippine embassy in Beijing has already raised the country’s concern to China.

“They are likewise considering a recommendation to officially notify the chairman of the International Hydrographic Organization—Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans [IHO-IOC GEBCO] Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names [SCUFN],” Roque said.

The Philippines is not a member of the SCUFN, which is composed of 12 members, he said.

“China’s proposals to rename some undersea features in the Philippine were submitted to SCUFN during its meetings in Brazil on Oct. 12-16, 2015 and Sept. 19-23, 2017,” but the Philippines was not informed,” Roque said.

A maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, director of the Univesity of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said China’s proposed names were approved in 2017.

China successfully named four undersea mountains and a hill within the country’s extended continental shelf in Benham Rise, where the country has sole right over resources.

He said Chinese navy ships conducted surveys in the country’s waters since 2004, but it was not clear if the research was covered by a permit from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Philippine Rise is an undersea plateau 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province.

Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and JV Ejercito Wednesday called on the government to file a diplomatic protest against China.

“That’s clear that our country is being deceived. They asked permission from out country to conduct research and then, they did that,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes said a diplomatic protest was largely symbolic.

“This is really a question of legality that we have to clear it with the UN since the UN is the entity that declared the extended continental shelf as lart of [our territory], “ he said.

Ejercito said China was bullying the Philippines.

“We have to exhaust all diplomatic means, if possible legal and diplomatic means to fight for our territories, fight for our sovereignty,” he said, adding that the country should not always be helpless against China.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said Benham Rise is clearly Philippine territory and its features are not for China to name.

Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier raised an alarm over the reported naming of the five features in the Philippine territory.

“It’s probably a matter of time before we see Chinese structures on more artificial islands. Damn us! Are we this helpless?” Lacson said.

He said a diplomatic protest should be the next move and warned that China might begin building structures in the Philippine Rise as it did on the disputed islands of the South China Sea.

Chinese state media reported Tuesday that China has started building the world’s largest test site for unmanned ships—a technology with both civilian and military applications—off a port in the disputed South China Sea.

The test area is being constructed off the southern port city of Zhuhai bordering Macau, the state Xinhua news agency said.

China asserts sovereignty over almost all the South China Sea despite competing partial claims from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and has reclaimed several islands which it controls to bolster its claims.

Unmanned or “autonomous” ship technology, still in its infancy, would allow both civilian and military craft to be remotely controlled.

It could revolutionize the shipping industry by creating more cargo space on unmanned ships, which would also save huge sums in labor costs.

As the first of its kind to be built in Asia, Zhuhai’s “unmanned boat test site” is expected to become the world’s largest with an area of about 770 square kilometers.

Islands in the test zone will be equipped with GPS, sonar, communication instruments or photoelectric components to guide ships and boats, according to the China’s Science and Technology Daily.

No commissioning date has been announced.

“Beijing will use this test site to develop a series of new unmanned systems for military but also for civilian purposes, as this technology can potentially contribute to its economic development,” said Collin Koh, specialist in regional naval affairs at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“It symbolizes its rise as a world maritime power and is meant to position it in the future market for unmanned ships, whether for civilian or military applications.”

Various unmanned ship projects already exist in the European Union and the United States. Norway is expected this year to launch the world’s first wholly electrically-powered and autonomous freighter.

China is trying to catch up in this field. It plans to launch at the end of the year its own autonomous vessel, the Jindouyun, for river transport and ferrying goods to islands. With AFP

Topics: Benham Rise
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