Philippines to take action if Chinese weather stations in South China Sea are verified — Palace

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Malacañang said the foreign affairs department is currently coordinating with Beijing to verify reports of the weather stations' placement. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — Malacañang said it will await confirmation on reports that China has set up weather stations on areas in the South China Sea and assured that the government will take action if this is proven true.

"The government will undertake appropriate actions once these reports are properly validated," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Tuesday.

Panelo said the foreign affairs department is currently coordinating with the Philippine Embassy in Beijing to verify the reported setting up of the weather stations.

"It is currently coordinating with concerned government agencies, as well as with the Philippine Embassy in Beijing to verify the existence or non-existence of these alleged facilities," he said.

Panelo earlier addressed this concern on Monday saying Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin jr. will "do his job" once the reports have been verified.

China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang announced on November 1 that Beijing has already begun operating weather stations on the artificial islands in South China Sea.

"These projects are designed to observe the maritime, hydrological, meteorological conditions and air qualities, and provide such services as maritime warning and forecast, tsunami alert, weather forecast, air quality forecast, and disaster prevention and relief," Lu Kang said in a press conference.

He said China aims "to improve civil services and provide public goods and services to countries in this region."

Weather services and militarization

The establishment of weather stations over areas in the South China Sea comes amid an ongoing territorial dispute with the Philippines.

China has repeatedly received backlash from neighboring countries over its alleged militarization of features in the contested waters that it turned into artificial islands.

In a text message to CNN Philippines, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said allowing China to operate weather stations there may ultimately lead to the country's acceptance of China's overall claim on the islands.

"Unless PH protests and makes clear (its) position against such move and offer of public goods, PH may be deemed to accept (China's) civilian and military control of (South China Sea)," he said.

Geopolitical analyst Richard Heydarian echoed Batongbacal's statement saying China is securing its advantage over the disputed waters through this latest endeavor.

"This is clearly part of China's relentless effort to build facts on the ground, consolidate its control over disputed land features and build a sprawling network of civilian and military facilities," Heydarian told CNN Philippines.

The analyst urged the government to refrain from fraternizing with China and hold firm its territorial stand over the South China Sea.

"The Duterte administration should stop hiding behind "yet to be verified" mantra and make it clear that a bilateral rapprochement can't materialise under such conditions," he said.

Batongbacal also explained that weather stations contribute to militarization for they provide information needed to man aircraft and vessels.

"Weather services also have a military purpose since they are part of (China's) military bases in SCS, and directly support military operations like launch/landing of aircraft and vessels," he said.

He added that the implications will remain the same regardless if the weather stations were built on islands within or outside of the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"(China) does not distinguish between islands and seas, and maintains an ambiguous open-ended claim to all maritime zones and 'relevant waters' without describing their extent," Batongbacal argued.

The ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China are currently negotiating a Code of Conduct that will outline rules of behavior in the disputed area, but Locsin has hinted that the talks may not produce a legally-binding document that ASEAN countries have been aspiring for.

A 2016 ruling by an international aribitral tribunal invalidated China's sweeping historical claims to the South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.

READ: Beijing operates weather stations in South China Sea artificial islands