US lawmakers express support for PH arbitration case against China
MANILA, Philippines – Members of the United States (US) congress have expressed their support for the Philippine move to bring its West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) disputes before an arbitral body under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), reiterating their country’s position for peaceful resolution of disputes under international law.
In an interview with reporters, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary for the Office of American Affairs Carlos Sorreta said that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario briefed the visiting congressmen on the country’s latest actions regarding the issue and that the congressmen were “very supportive of it.”
“The members of the US congress expressed their very strong support for our efforts to resolve the situation there in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos),” Sorreta said.
“There were some discussions on the details of our actions and they were very interested in the merits of our argument, they’re very supportive of it,” Sorreta added.
The US congressional delegation (Codel), led by newly selected chairman of the US House committee on foreign affairs Congressman Edward Royce, had a meeting with Del Rosario, Sorreta, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla, Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio and other Philippine officials at the DFA main office Tuesday morning. The delegation was in the country for a three-day visit.
The DFA had earlier said that high on the agenda for the meeting were discussions on the countries’ bilateral relations, defense and trade and investment cooperation, as well as regional security issues.
Sorreta told reporters that the US Codel would be heading to Beijing after the Manila stop.
Asked whether the US congressmen would be discussing the Philippines’ latest moves with the Chinese officials, Sorreta said that he could not speak on behalf of the congressmen but that based on his own understanding of the talks that transpired, the issue on the disputes would be discussed.
“But we conveyed to them our determination to see this case through and they have said that they support it,” Sorreta said.
“It is our hope that they will discuss it with the Chinese when they go to Beijing,” he added.
Sorreta emphasized that the country welcomes moral and political support on its arbitration case against China but that it should proceed on its own merits.
“The case should proceed on its own merits……we don’t expect nor do we wish that politics enter into it,” he said.
“We believe very strongly in the merits of the case and that it will proceed on that basis….We welcome the moral support, and in a way political support, but with or without that our case would proceed,” he said.
The US delegation includes Ranking Member Eliot Engel, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Congressman Vern Buchanan, Congressman Matthew James “Matt” Salmon, and Congressman Thomas Anthony “Tom” Marino.
In a separate briefing for reporters, DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez also noted that the discussions involved “the continuing commitment of the US in providing support for our building of our minimum credible defense posture” to protect its territorial waters.
He added that “possible energy investments in the Philippines were also discussed.”
The visit of the US congressmen came after the Philippines had earlier announced that it had decided to challenge China’s nine-dash claim to nearly all of the South of China Sea before an arbitral tribunal under the Unclos, saying that the “excessive claims violate international law.”
China had not made an announcement on whether it would participate in the arbitral proceedings, but maintained its position that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the area.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have contending claims over parts of the sea.
Meanwhile, asked whether discussions involved the issue on a US Navy minesweeper that ran aground on the Tubbataha Reefs, Sorreta said that there were no such discussions.
Sorreta however pointed out that the US lawmakers recognized the “leadership of the Philippines in terms of protecting the environment, particularly the marine environment.”