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Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 16:25 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China remains firm on Spratlys

Delegation leaders Lauro Baja and Wang Yi at the start of the two-day session

Two days of talks in the Philippine capital, Manila, have failed to resolve differences between the Philippines and China over the Spratly Islands.

John MacLean in Manila: Insignificant sandbars, but a strategic prize
Both sides said they would exercise self-restraint in the disputed area.

Manila had accused the authorities in Beijing of building facilities with possible gun emplacements and navigational radar on Mischief Reef which, it said, could be used for military purposes.

The Philippine Government says the reef, 135 nautical miles off its southwestern island of Palawan, is within its exclusive economic zone.

[ image: Six countries say they have a claim on the islands]
Six countries say they have a claim on the islands
Foreign Undersecretary Lauro Bara said his delegation called for the dismantling of the facilities during the meeting of senior diplomats from the two countries, but the request met with no response from China.

Positive consideration

China's Assistant Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, repeated Beijing's assurances that the structures are only shelters for Chinese fishermen. Once the facilities are completed and relations with the Philippines improves, Beijing will give "positive consideration" to the use by Filipino fishermen of the "sheltering facilities," Mr Wang said.

[ image:  ]
In Monday's session the Chinese delegation said that buildings put up by Beijing on Mischief Reef late in 1998 were not for military purposes, nor directed at any country.

Mr Baja said he was "not deliriously happy" with the outcome of the talks.

The disputed reef is within the area defined by international law as the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

United Nations

President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines said after the conclusion of the talks that he might "elevate the issue to the United Nations". The president met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York last week, and asked him to help find a peaceful solution to the row.

In addition to China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan all want a stake in the chain's future. The islands lie close to important shipping lanes and may possess important oil, gas and other mineral resources.

The BBC Correspondent in Manila, John MacLean, says that the five countries claiming territorial rights to the Spratly Islands will learn one lesson from the talks in Manila this week - that diplomacy is unlikely to stop China from vigorously exercising its claim to the Spratly Islands.

For China, he says, the Spratlys are a strategic prize not to be given away over the negotiating table.

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Internet Links

Spratlys Dispute Timeline

The Spratly Islands Dispute - an overview

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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