Manila : Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has banned all foreign scientific research off the country’s Pacific coast and told the navy to chase away unauthorised vessels, despite earlier allowing Chinese oceanographers to operate there. There was no clear explanation for the about-face by the mercurial Duterte, who has cultivated warm ties with China, ostensibly to attract loans and investments and lessen Manila’s dependence on the United States.
The area of focus is Benham Rise, which the United Nations in 2012 declared part of the Philippines’ continental shelf. Manila last year renamed it “Philippine Rise”. “Let me be very clear about this: the Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration,” Duterte told a cabinet meeting on Monday, according to a Facebook post by his Agriculture Secretary, Emmanuel Pinol, reports Reuters.
The area is roughly the size of Greece and believed to be rich in biodiversity and tuna. Scientists from the United States and Japan have surveyed it numerous times. However, Chinese interest, including some 18 official requests in 17 years, has caused concern among Philippine nationalists mistrustful of its intentions after decades of disputes and perceived encroachments by Beijing in the South China Sea.