FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City, Philippines—The Philippines continues to assert its claim over the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but is ready for joint development negotiations being proposed by China, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said here on Saturday.
The defense chief also said the country was concerned about the increase in China’s military buildup but “as long as it is transparent about how they spend their military budget,” it would not be a problem.
Gazmin graced the pre-graduation program for the Philippine Military Academy’s “Bagwis” Class of 2012. President Benigno Aquino is the guest speaker at Sunday’s graduation where he will also commission new officers from the 187 members of the class.
“We are amenable to the [Chinese offer of joint cooperation] for as long as it conforms to our laws,” Gazmin said. “As [President Aquino] said, what is ours is ours. China can be allowed to have a joint venture, but it should be based on our rules.”
Newly installed Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing had offered to hold talks for cooperation in developing the contested Spratlys. While she acknowledged in a recent press briefing the 11.2 percent increase in China’s military appropriations, she said her country would not pose any threat to Southeast Asian nations that are also claiming ownership of the Spratlys.
Reacting to reports that China would increase its defense budget to 670.27 billion yuan ($106.41 billion) this year, Gazmin said: “It is in China’s interest to increase its [military] budget. We maintain that we are a little bit worried about [the increased arms spending].”
But he backtracked: “For as long as there is transparency, we should not be worried about it. Basta transparent iyong pag-gastos nila ang makikita natin (As long as they are transparent in how they spend their military budget).”
Last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines formally received four of eight new combat utility helicopters which it bought from a Poland-based aircraft manufacturer.
The helicopters, which landed at the Air Force City in Clark Field in Pampanga, are far more advanced than any helicopters currently used by the Philippine Air Force, officials said.
But Gazmin stressed the country is banking on internationally accepted laws and regulations to settle disputes.
China “also accepts the rules-based approach, which is our main approach,” Gazmin said.
The Philippines pegs its claim over parts of the Spratlys on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea , which prescribes how each nation defines maritime territories and how it may use maritime resources.
Both the Philippines and China signed and ratified this convention.
“But [China is] saying that it is not only UNCLOS that should be considered,” Gazmin said, adding that the treaty is only one of the mechanisms for addressing the Spratly dispute.