Reef naming angers Manila 

The Philippines has complained about China’s move to name undersea features on Manila’s continental shelf amid fears Beijing may be claiming more maritime territory.

President spokesman Harry Roque said “we object and do not recognise the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise”, in reference to the Benham Rise.

Manila has exclusive economic rights on the maritime ridge which is on the other side of the Philippine archipelago from the South China Sea, where Manila, Beijing and four other governments are locked in a prolonged territorial dispute.

Duterte issued a warning last week that he would order his navy to fire if other countries tried to extract resources from within the economic zone: 200 nautical miles of sea where a coastal state has internationally recognised exclusive rights to exploit resources under a 1982 UN treaty.

Roque said the Philippine embassy in Beijing had “raised our concern” over the submission of names for five underwater features on the ridge to the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO).

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

“It is only right that the government counter any further moves to name features of our territory and propose remedies for the two formally named by China through the International Hydrographic Organisation,” the senator said. “It is imperative that we protect our territory from any foreign interest.”

The maritime land mass extends for 13 million hectares, believed to be resource-rich, 250km off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island.

In 2012 the UN recognised Manila’s exclusive economic rights to the area.

But Roque said China had submitted the names for five features to a special IHO naming body, which does not have representation from the Philippines, in 2015 and 2017.

Duterte has moved away from its former colonial master, the US, and extended the hand of friendship to China, seeking financial and military aid.

Last month Duterte allowed China to conduct a survey of Benham Rise, sparking criticism that he was allowing the Chinese to map out possible submarines routes.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Beijing had been participating in activities related to proposing names for undersea features “in accordance with international practice” and IHO rules.

“China fully respects the Philippines’ continental shelf rights over Benham Rise,” Geng Shuang said in Beijing. “Meanwhile, we hope the relevant parties can be objective and responsible in viewing relevant technical works.”


China’s navy on show. Picture credit: Wikimedia