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Philippines backs down in South China Sea after Beijing protest

Philippines backs down in South China Sea after Beijing protest
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MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stopped construction work on a newly formed sandbar in the disputed South China Sea after China protested, the defense chief said on Wednesday, disclosing details of the territorial spat for the first time.

The dispute over a string of sandbars called Sandy Cay emerged in August and prompted China and the Philippines to consider negotiating some sort of arrangement to prevent such incidents from spiraling out of control, Lorenzana said.
The rift over the tiny sandbar, where Filipinos planned to erect fishermen's shelters, in the group near Philippine-occupied Thitu island in the Spratlys archipelago remains unresolved but both sides pledged not to occupy any new territory, he said.
China's claims to most of the South China Sea overlap those of the Philippines and four other governments. Despite that, tensions have eased since Duterte took over as president last year and took steps to thaw once-frosty relations with Beijing.
Duterte has courted Chinese trade and assistance and taken a nonconfrontational approach to their territorial disputes. He has refused to immediately take up with China a ruling by a UN-linked tribunal that invalidated Beijing's sprawling claims in the South China Sea, sparking criticism from nationalists and left-wing groups, which wanted him to demand immediate Chinese compliance with the landmark decision. "We tried to put some structures in one of the sandbars near our island and the Chinese reacted," Lorenzana told a diplomatic and security forum in Manila, adding that Duterte later ordered, "Let's pull out."

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