“The Chinese will not occupy new features in the South China Sea nor are they are going to build structures in Scarborough Shoal,” Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana told lawmakers on Tuesday, according to China News Asia. The waters near the shoal are frequented by Philippine fishers, but from 2012 to 2016 China blockaded the area.
Specifically, "there is a status quo now that is happening in the South China Sea brokered by the secretary of Foreign Affairs,"he said, adding "it would be a very serious thing if China will occupy any of the islands."
The two sides are reportedly collaborating on a commercial arrangement to jointly conduct oil exploration and begin drilling for black gold within 12 months’ time, according to Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano. Beijing and Hanoi have recently reached heated disagreements over the fate of the Block 136-03 oil and gas field in the South China Sea.
Last week, a prominent Washington-based think tank published satellite imagery demonstrating that while Beijing claims it stopped island reclamation two years ago, in fact new construction been completed in the South China Sea at places like Tree Island over the same time period.
"China’s own reclamation work did not end in mid-2015 with the completion of the artificial islands in the Spratlys," the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said in an August 9 blog post.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his foreign policy has "shifted away from a pro-Western one" during an interview with RT on May 22. "I am now working on an alliance with China and I hope to start a good working relationship with Russia," Duterte said. "The Western world, the EU and everything… they have this double-talk," the outspoken head of state noted.