The Philippines has retracted claims that China was preparing to start construction on a contested reef in the South China Sea, in an embarrassing about-turn by Manila.
President Benigno “Noy Noy” Aquino said previous accusations that Chinese ships had brought concrete blocks to the Scarborough Shoal – which China calls Huangyan Island – for construction were wrong. He said the blocks had been there a long time and were “not a new phenomenon”.
“They don’t seem to give us any reason to have an increase in anxiety,” Mr Aquino said on Wednesday.
Beijing reacted angrily when Voltaire Gazmin, the Philippines defence secretary, in September said Chinese ships had been seen near the reef and that there were “concrete blocks inside the shoal which is a prelude to construction”.
Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said Mr Aquino’s remarks were the latest in a series of retractions by Manila in its dispute with China.
He said the Philippines in 2011 accused China of unloading construction equipment at the Iroquois Reef-Amy Douglas Bank – 125 nautical miles off Palawan island, one of the Philippines’ main islands – but was unable to offer evidence to support the claims.
“They shot themselves in the foot then, and they have done it again,” said Mr Storey. “It doesn’t do their credibility any good”.
China has disputes with many southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, over the resource-rich South China Sea, most of which it claims as its maritime territory. But tensions with Manila have been the most serious as the Philippines has been aggressive about challenging Beijing in public.
Rommel Banlaoi, a former professor at the Philippines national defence college, said the episode should serve as a lesson for Manila to “exercise more due diligence in making declarations or comments that can stir more conflicts and misunderstanding on South China Sea”.
Gary Li, a senior analyst at IHS Maritime, said Mr Acquino’s public admission was unusual because Manila had in the past allowed erroneous claims to “slide into obscurity” without any apology.
菲律宾总统阿基诺三世(Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino)表示，之前声称中国船只已将混凝土预制块运至斯卡伯勒浅滩（Scarborough Shoal，中国称黄岩岛）用于建设的说法是错误的。他表示，这些预制块已经在那里存在了很长时间，“并非一个新现象”。
他表示，2011年菲律宾指控中国在距菲主要岛屿之一巴拉望岛125海里的易洛魁礁（Iroquois Reef，中国称鲎藤礁）和艾米?道格拉斯滩（Amy Douglas Bank，中国称安塘滩）卸下建筑设备，但未能提供证据支持其指控。
曾任菲律宾国防学院(National Defense College of the Philippines)教授的Rommel Banlaoi表示，菲律宾应从这件事中吸取教训，应“在发表可能在南中国海引发更多冲突和误解的声明或言论前展开更多尽职调查”。
IHS Maritime高级分析师Gary Li表示，阿基诺三世的公开认错不同寻常，因为菲律宾政府过去一直任由错误的指控“慢慢沦为含糊其辞的说法”、而未作出过任何道歉。