The joint development of areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) that “are clearly ours is not a viable solution” to our problem with China, according to Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
As for the potentially resource-rich Spratlys group of islands, the Philippines is “open to considering joint development in the disputed areas,” Del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday.
Del Rosario said that during his meeting last week with Wang Yingfan and Wang Chungui, two former Chinese ambassadors to the Philippines who were here on a goodwill visit, he “reiterated our position that we are open to inviting China in the Recto Bank as an investor to be governed by [our] laws.”
The Recto Bank (Reed Bank), he pointed out, was an “integral part of the Philippines and, as such, cannot be jointly developed.”
“To do so would be in violation of our Constitution,” he said.
The Recto Bank had drawn China’s interest several months ago when the Philippine Air Force discovered several Chinese vessels in its vicinity.
As another option, Del Rosario said “we again asked if China would join us in availing of the dispute settlement mechanism under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” or Unclos.
He said he told his guests the government was “endeavoring to look at all means to arrive at a peaceful solution of the disputes in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, specifically Unclos.”
Apart from China’s suggestion that the Philippines revisit the concept of joint development of the Spratlys, the two sides also discussed “how both nations are advancing our bilateral agenda while treating contentious issues separately, and the view that we should not accept all that appear in the press as being factual,” Del Rosario said.
According to the secretary, the retired ambassadors were “very appreciative (they) came to enhance our friendship and cooperation.”
Earlier, he told this paper that “their visit serves to put substance in the initiative (of China and the Philippines) on friendly visits.”
During President Benigno Aquino III’s state visit to Beijing last August, both sides declared 2012 and 2013 the “Years of Friendly Exchanges” between the two Asian neighbors.
Set aside quarrel
On Wednesday, Wang Yingfan told a media forum organized by the Chinese Embassy that the Philippine government should consider the “Deng Xiaoping Solution” to the Spratlys dispute, that is, setting aside the territorial quarrel in favor of a joint exploration and development of the disputed waters.
Wang, who served in Manila from 1988 to 1990, stressed “it is time for cooperation, not confrontation, not fighting.”
He said he had “talked with some important people in your government that we should work hard to find ways that are acceptable to both sides, that we must work hard to prepare the ground so that we could share the resources together.”
According to Wang, the response he got “was very encouraging. They said they would consider this kind of thinking. So with patience, with goodwill and with hard work, we could find a way out that’s agreeable and acceptable to both sides. ”
Wang also advised Filipinos to “spend your energy on economic development.”
He said it would be some time before the two Spratlys claimants could find a solution to the dispute.
Wang also warned the Philippines against bringing the United States into the equation, saying this would be unacceptable to China which would “certainly react” if that happened.
Wang stressed that allowing the US to meddle in the six-nation Spratlys conflict was another story. “That would make the issue more complicated and more difficult to settle among ourselves,” he said.
The Philippines and China claim all or part of the Spratlys along with Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.