February 24, 2017 6:25 am JST

China promised no building on disputed shoal: Philippines

Foreign minister says Scarborough Shoal militarization would be 'game-changer'

JUN ENDO, Nikkei staff writer

MANILA -- Chinese President Xi Jinping told Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte that no structures would be built on Scarborough Shoal when the two leaders met last October, Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay told reporters Thursday.

Duterte has downplayed the Philippines' claims to the shoal, which is effectively controlled by China, in a bid to cozy up to Beijing. China has stopped obstructing Philippine fishing boats in the area. Yasay said any construction on the shoal in the South China Sea would be a "game-changer" for the bilateral relationship but added that he does not expect China to take such a step.

Beijing has built artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands and placed anti-aircraft installations there. Some observers had argued that the strategically important Scarborough Shoal could be similarly landfilled and militarized.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang countered Yasay's comments in a news conference Thursday. "Mr. Yasay's recent remarks apparently deviate from the consensus of the two leaders," Geng said, adding that China finds them "baffling and regrettable" and urging Yasay to "exercise prudence."

Geng also said that a planned visit to the Philippines by Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng was postponed due to "scheduling reasons."

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