10/24/2013, 00.00
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South China Sea: Manila backtracks on accusing Beijing of "imperialism”

Philippine President Aquino withdraws allegations that China wants to build on the Scarborough Shoal, a group of disputed islands . A sudden change of direction, which threatens to undermine the credibility of the executive long at loggerheads with Beijing. In recent days, short face-to- face meeting between Aquino and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang .

Manila ( AsiaNews / Agencies) - Manila has withdrawn its allegations that Beijing was beginning to construct buildings on a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea, thus claiming ownership. It is a sudden and embarrassing reversal for the Philippine government over the Scarborough Shoal, which threatens to undermine the credibility and authority of the executive led by President Benigno " Noy Noy " Aquino . A backwards step which is likely to open a new chapter in relations - at an all time low - between the two countries locked in a regional dispute that has even involved the United Nations.
The Philippine head of state had repeatedly accused Beijing of sending ships to Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan for Beijing ), a group of atolls situated between the island of Luzon and Zhongsha in the Pacific, carrying concrete blocks . Manila believed the material was needed to construct buildings and in this way legitimize territorial claims with outposts in the area.

Today Benigno Aquino recanted his earlier statements, emphasizing that the blocks were "very old", there for some time and "by no means a new phenomenon". He added that there seemed to be no reason to worry about China's possible expansionist policies in the area. Finally, the President revealed a meeting two weeks ago with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Brunei, on the sidelines of an international summit . While each nation "still holds thier respective position", over territorial disputes he said, "at least we spoke about ."

Last September Beijing reacted harshly to statements by the Philippine Minister of Defence Voltaire Gazmin, according to whom Chinese boats were carrying blocks of cement to the islands "as a prelude to a building". And despite friction with different nations, the Philippines openly and directly charged China of having an expansionist project in the Asia-Pacific region.  At the time, the controversy had reached boiling point, so much so that President Aquino had to cancel an official trip to the China-ASEAN Expo in Guangxi, in which the Philippines were " guest of honor" .

Among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region, China is one with the broadest territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are almost uninhabited, are rich in natural resources and raw materials. Hegemony in this area of such strategic importance is crucial for trade and seabed oil and natural gas development. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Sultanate of Brunei and Taiwan oppose China's expansionist ambitions, along with the United States, which has acted behind the scenes to counter Beijing's imperialism in a region where two-thirds of the world's maritime trade transits.


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