MANILA, Philippines—Despite persistent regional cracks over how to resolve disputes over the West Philippine Sea, China expressed its willingness, on Thursday, to observe a code of conduct in the contested territories as it urged Southeast Asian claimants to “stick to mutual respect and mutual trust” and boost dialogue.
In the same breath, China, the largest of six claimant countries to the resource-rich maritime territories, asserted its ownership of the Panatag Shoal (also called Scarborough Shoal in international maps and called by the Chinese as Huangyan Island), where a standoff between Chinese and Philippine naval vessels flared earlier in 2012.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila issued the statement on Thursday, reiterating Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s message in the just concluded Asean meetings in Phnom Penh, where the official took part in expanded talks among the bloc’s member nations and partners Japan, Korea and the United States, among others.
“Wen elaborated on China’s position on the regional situation and the South China Sea issue. He stressed that China pursues good neighborliness and that all problems must be properly solved by countries concerned through direct dialogue and consultation,” the Embassy said.
“China is ready to make joint efforts with Asean countries to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), safeguard regional peace, stability, cooperation and development,” the statement added.
China has been contending ownership of almost the entire West Philippine Sea, countering partial claims of Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
At the Cambodia summit, Asean member states again disagreed on how to approach the issue, particularly on whether or not to internationalize the discussions.
Contrary to the Philippine position of maintaining an internationalized discussion of the maritime row, the Embassy said: “China’s stance has gained widespread understanding and respect. Asean countries said they are willing to keep communication and consultation with China and that the South China Sea issue should not be internationalized.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier clarified that Asean member states did not have a consensus to vote against internationalizing the dispute.
China also reiterated its claim to the Panatag Shoal, countering President Benigno Aquino III’s stern call for China to respect international borders and exclusive economic zones, as delineated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“In response to the mentioning of the Huangyan Island (Panatag Shoal) at the East Asia Summit, Wen said that the Huangyan Island is an integral part of Chinese territory and that its sovereignty is indisputable,” the Embassy said, quoting Wen.
“China’s actions to defend the island’s sovereignty are legitimate and necessary,” the statement added.