MANILA — Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday denied reports he had asked the United States for spy planes to monitor a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Aquino told reporters that his country had its own ships and aircraft to keep an eye on the disputed Scarborough Shoal and that he had merely mentioned in an interview that US aircraft could be called upon for help if needed.
"If you will go through the transcript of the interview, I said 'We might' (ask for US help)," he said.
"That is where (the interviewers) suddenly introduced the supposed request for overflights, which wasn't what I stated."
Aides said Aquino had made the remarks during an interview with a foreign news agency on Monday.
Subsequent reports of the president's alleged requests for US spy planes raised concerns within China, with the country warning the Philippines against provocation over the three-month stand-off between the two countries.
"Let us correct that. America is a treaty ally. Where we are lacking in capacity, I think we can go to them and ask that they increase (our) situational awareness," Aquino said Thursday.
The shoal stand-off began in April when Chinese vessels prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen encroaching on what the Filipinos claim is a part of their country's territory.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries.
In addition to the whole of the Scarborough Shoal the Philippines also claims parts of the Spratlys archipelago. It says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Both countries have been pressing their respective claims to the area, with the poorly-equipped Philippines seeking the support of its main defence ally, the United States.
Aquino remarked Thursday that the Philippines had withdrawn its own ships from the shoal almost three weeks ago, but Chinese ships were still in the area.
"If their vessels had also gone home... there would be no more issue. So who is prolonging the issue?" he said.
"There are a lot of things being said by the other side. Maybe they need to balance their statements with the truth," he said.
Meanwhile, the Philippines announced Thursday it had filed a diplomatic protest with China over Beijing's establishment of a new prefecture called "Sansha" to administer disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said Sansha's establishment violated Manila's claim to the Scarborough Shoal and parts of the Spratly islands, as well as other areas within the South China Sea.
He told reporters the ministry was awaiting the Chinese government's response to the protest.
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