US tells PH, China: Settle row; Aquino to redeploy shipsBy Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The United States on Thursday called on the Philippines and China to sit down and find a peaceful solution to their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Speaking at the US Embassy’s first news forum, called Kapihan sa Embahada, Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said Washington “has been very clear on our commitment to support a resolution of these claims in a peaceful manner at the negotiating table.”
But President Benigno Aquino told reporters on Wednesday that a military plane would fly to the area when the weather cleared and if Chinese vessels were still there by then, he would order the two Philippine vessels back to the shoal.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who recommended the redeployment of the two vessels to the shoal, told reporters yesterday that heavy rains and strong winds kept the government from sending a plane to the area.
Gazmin said the government still had to decide which service, whether the Navy or the Coast Guard, would send the reconnaissance plane.
Definitely, however, the Philippines will go back to Scarborough Shoal to maintain effective control in the area.
Gazmin said the continued absence of Philippine forces at the shoal would amount to Chinese “occupation” of that part of Philippine territory.
“If you can’t man that place, they (China) will consider it occupancy since they are there, so that will be the basis for their claim,” Gazmin said in a phone patch interview with reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.
China and the Philippines have withdrawn vessels from Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground off the western coast of Luzon, where they had a more than two-month standoff over sovereignty.
The standoff ended during the weekend, when President Aquino ordered home a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources survey ship, citing bad weather.
China, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), withdrew two government vessels during the weekend.
The Chinese Ministry of Transport announced late last week that more than 20 fishing boats in the shoal’s lagoon were being called home because of bad weather.
But an unnamed Philippine government official reported on Wednesday that there were six Chinese government vessels outside the shoal’s lagoon and at least 30 fishing boats inside the lagoon.
Manila refers to the area as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.
Despite statements from China that it had no plans of leaving Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island, the DFA insisted on Wednesday that talks were going on for the withdrawal of the Chinese government vessels that were positioned outside the lagoon.
Thomas said the United States would like to see a “deescalation [of tensions] and peace and this can be negotiated.”
“We would not like to see any nation take untoward action,” Thomas said.
New Vietnamese law
The dispute began on April 8 with Chinese vessels blocking Philippine patrol vessels to prevent the arrest of Chinese fishermen caught poaching sharks and collecting rare clams and corals at Scarborough Shoal, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Although a signatory to Unclos, China refuses to recognize the Philippine EEZ, insisting that ancient maps prove it owns the shoal and nearly all of the West Philippine Sea.
Pressing that claim, China on Thursday opposed a new Vietnamese law asserting sovereignty over islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun summoned Vietnamese Ambassador to China Nguyen Van Tho and told him that Vietnam’s new law claiming the contested Paracel and Spratly Islands was a “serious violation” of Chinese sovereignty and called for an “immediate correction.”
The law was void, Zhang said. China, he added, would “resolutely defend” its sovereignty.
To settle the dispute, the Philippines proposed to China in April that they bring their disagreement to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), but China refused.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines would go ahead anyway and bring the dispute to the Itlos.
Asked if the United States would support the Philippine bid for international mediation, Thomas referred the query to Joy Yamamoto, the US Embassy’s political officer, who said: “We’re very consistent in supporting international law and settling this kind of disputes under international law. We would support China and the Philippines settle the issue through international means.”
Thomas reiterated, however, that the United States was not taking any sides in the dispute, but he said the Americans were “very proud that we’re able to partner with President Aquino and the fact that he has an honest administration.”
“That’s been extremely important,” Thomas said. “We’re able to tell our Congress repeatedly that there’s an honest administration that allows us to maintain and even increase the assistance we’re getting. We’re able to increase US Agency for International Development assistance and also our Peace Corps assistance, as well as veterans affairs. We’ve been able to tell our Congress that the Aquino administration is honest in ensuring the funds they provide are going to the people as intended for.”
Committed to MDT
Thomas said the Philippines “has been the largest recipient of US military aid in Southeast Asia” for the past 50 years.
“The aid is an average of $50 million a year,” he said. “We’re very proud we were able to give that assistance. And we’ll always look for ways to assist within our means.”
Thomas stressed that the United States was standing by its commitments under the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
Thomas disputed reports that the United States planned to set up once again military bases in the Philippines.
“We have no intention of having bases here,” he said.
On reports the US government was beefing up the capability of the Philippine National Police in Palawan province, Thomas said, “We have given four boats and we plan to give two more to the police to help them catch smugglers.”
He added, “Our interest in Palawan is mainly supporting efforts to protect the environment.”
New US strategy
Earlier this month, the United States announced details of a new military strategy under which 60 percent of its warships would be deployed in the Asia-Pacific region by the end of the decade.
The United States is also working out arrangements with its allies for the rotational deployment of troops, with Australia and Singapore already agreeing to limited US troop presence.
The Philippines already has a troop-rotation deal with the United States under which Filipino and American troops train in annual joint military exercises.
The new US military strategy is seen as aimed at containing China, which is aggressively pursuing development programs designed to make it an economic and military superpower.
During President Aquino’s visit to Washington earlier this month, he and US President Barack Obama reaffirmed the two countries’ alliance, now 60 years old.
The two leaders discussed expanded intelligence sharing and cooperation on maritime security, but avoided mentioning China in their talks with the press.
Obama, however, reiterated Washington’s desire to be viewed as a Pacific power. With a report from DJ Yap
Originally posted at 06:29 pm | Thursday, June 21, 2012
Tags: Benigno Aquino , China , Diplomacy , Features , Foreign affairs , Foreign Affairs and International relations , Harry Thomas Jr. , International relations , Maritime Dispute , PH-China Relations , PH-US Relations , Philippines , Scarborough Shoal , South China Sea , territorial disputes , United States