DFA on Cayetano remarks: No land reclamation activity prior to ASEAN meet

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 11) — The Department of Foreign Afairs (DFA) said Friday it had not received reports about  reclamation activities in the South China Sea when the ASEAN joint communique was being negotiated last week. 

The department issued the statement following an August 9 report in the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Read: Land reclamation photos show areas contested by China, Vietnam — Palace

The report contained photos of islands in the South China Sea that were allegedly being reclaimed by China as late as March 2017.

"While there have been land reclamation activities that have taken place in the Paracels in the previous months based on the AMTI report, the same report did not indicate that such activity was taking place just prior to the AMM," the DFA statement said.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella earlier said that the AMTI photos should be verified first.

"The continuing reclamation and militarization of disputed territory in these waters, if the report and photos from a Washington-based think-tank are accurate, these can be taken up by the ASEAN in future discussions," he noted.     

This was echoed by the DFA, saying reports of reclamation activities, would be "carefully studied, verified and handled accordingly."

Cayetano had admitted in an August 8 press conference that he did not want to include the issue in the joint communique because China was no longer doing reclamation work in the South China Sea. 

Read: DFA Secretary did not want land reclamation, militarization mentioned in Joint Communiqué

"It's not reflective of the present position," Cayetano said at the briefing after hosting the foreign ministers' meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "They're not reclaiming land anymore. So why will you put it again this year? But since,  in fact, there was reclamations in the past and you can start to reclaim again, and that was the general sentiment, I accepted it."

However, the final joint communique, which reflects the consensus of ASEAN foreign ministers on issues concerning the region, "emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states."

"We discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," it said.

Read: ASEAN ministers denounce land reclamation, militarization in South China Sea

China and the Philippines are among six claimants in the South China Sea.  

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had earlier said China had finished its land reclamation over two years ago, and that those bringing up the issue on reclamation are the ones doing it.