Roque: PH should not get involved in US-China 'intramural' in Panatag Shoal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) - The Philippines takes a hands-off approach to the latest US-China 'intramural' in the South China Sea  following China's accusation that an American warship sailed near Panatag Shoal, an area it claims is part of its territory.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Sunday the Philippine government could not confirm the incident, but he added the country should not be involved in the issue between the United States and China.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said  last week that an American warship sailed within 12 nautical miles off Huangyan island (or Panatag Shoal as is known in the Philippines),  an area which he said is part of Chinese territory.

Lu said as the warship sailed in the area without government permission, "China will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty."

Roque said the government's primary concern  in the Panatag Shoal, a disputed lagoon claimed by the Philippines and  China in the South China Sea, is to ensure fishermen can pursue their livelihood in the area.

"Despite the ongoing unresolved controversy on the issue over Scarborough Shoal, what is important is that our people are once again able to pursue their fishing livelihood in Panatag," Roque told CNN Philippines.

In November 2016, Philippine boats have been allowed  by Chinese patrol vessels to enter and fish in the contested Panatag Shoal for the first time in years.

He reiterated the Panatag Shoal is Philippine territory under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the applicable law on the acquisition of territory under the international laws.

Roque added the Philippines and China now have a "mutual cooperation" amid bilateral relations, and that member countries of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) are looking forward to the negotiations of a code of conduct in the area.

"We hope the code of conduct can be resolved or concluded at the soonest time possible," he said.

Four ASEAN countries-the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei-also claim parts of the South China Sea, along with China and Taiwan.

Tensions among the South China Sea claimants have been simmering since July 2016, when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines, saying China doesn't have the right to resources within its "nine-dash line," boundary.

The Philippines argued that China's "nine-dash line" maritime claim is excessive and encroached into the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. China has refused to recognize the tribunal's ruling.

The "nine-dash line" is China's purported historical boundary that covers about 85 percent of the South China Sea, including 80 percent of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.