No mention of Chinese weather stations in ASEAN summit, DFA chief says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 15) — President Rodrigo Duterte did not mention at a summit with China the weather monitoring stations that Beijing said it has put up on artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr on Thursday revealed that no one brought up the issue during the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China Summit on Wednesday.

"Apparently the media knows about it but nobody else seems to," Locsin said in a press briefing in Singapore, where the ASEAN Summits were held.

When asked if the government has verified the presence of Chinese weather stations in the Spratlys, Locsin told the media to do the verification themselves. 

"You'd have to ask [Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana] there but I believe you should first verify it yourselves. If you heard that, it's very easy to just fly over it. Don't you have that capability?" Locsin said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang on November 1 confirmed that China is now operating a maritime observation center, a meteorogical observatory and national environmental and air quality monitoring stations on its man-made islands.

Locsin downplayed the announcement when asked about it.

"Well, there it is. Weather stations," Locsin said. "I don't think they're claims of ownership, they're claims of sovereignty. They're weather stations."

He said he would ask the military how they feel about it.

Maritime experts said allowing China to operate the weather stations in disputed areas may ultimately lead to the country's acceptance of China's overall claim on the islands.

A July 2016 arbitration ruling invalidated China's sweeping historical claims to almost the entire South China Sea, where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims. China has refused to recognize the ruling.

Duterte, who has been criticized for his soft stance on the maritime row with China, said he will bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term, which ends 2022.