Philippines objects to China's naming of undersea features

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government rejects Chinese names given to some undersea features in a vast offshore region where the Philippines has undisputed sovereign rights, the presidential spokesman said Wednesday in a new tiff despite the Asian neighbors' mended ties.

The Philippines has already raised its concern to China over its naming of the undersea features in Benham Rise and may officially notify the international hydrographic body that lists such records, spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said.

China proposed the names for the features in 2015 and 2017, he said.

In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that China has been participating in activities related to proposing names for undersea features "in accordance with international practice"and the rules of the international hydrographic body.

"China fully respects the Philippines' continental shelf rights over Benham Rise," said Geng Shuang, the Chinese spokesman. "Meanwhile, we hope the relevant parties can be objective and responsible in viewing relevant technical works."

Benham Rise lies on the other side of the Philippine archipelago from the South China Sea, where Manila, Beijing and four other governments have been locked in territorial disputes.

Critics have questioned why President Rodrigo Duterte's administration allowed a group from China to undertake scientific research in the waters given Manila's long-simmering territorial conflict with Beijing in the South China Sea.

China has defied and refuses to comply with an international arbitration ruling that invalidated its claim to virtually all of the South China Sea on historical grounds.

"We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise," Roque said in a statement, using the name given by the Duterte administration to Benham Rise.

Duterte ordered an end last week to all foreign scientific research missions in Benham Rise after officials said the Philippines' undisputed sovereign rights in the potentially oil- and gas-endowed body of water off its northeastern coast came under question.

The president followed up with a warning that he will order the navy to fire if other countries extract resources from within his country's exclusive economic zone, a 200-nautical mile stretch of sea where a coastal state has internationally recognized exclusive rights to exploit resources under a 1982 U.N. treaty.

Foreign ships can pass but cannot fish or extract oil and gas from the under the seabed.

There were no immediate comments from Chinese Embassy officials.

Chinese and Philippine officials met Tuesday in Manila and discussed proposed joint projects in the South China Sea. They said China and Southeast Asian nations would begin negotiations early next month on a "code of conduct" aimed at reducing the risks of armed confrontations in the contested territories.

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