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PH: China turning sea into its lake

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Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario. AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—China is turning the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) into “one country’s lake,” Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Tuesday, pressing Manila’s effort to roll back Beijing’s expansive claims in the strategic waterway.

Speaking before an experts’ roundtable on maritime security in Brussels, Belgium, Del Rosario said China’s assertion of ownership over almost all of the sea could restrict freedom of navigation in sea-lanes critical to global trade.

Del Rosario also reiterated the Philippines’ bid for a peaceful resolution to its territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea by bringing it to the United Nations for arbitration.

Citing China’s “overwhelming naval and maritime presence far beyond its mainland shores,” Del Rosario accused Beijing of “raising regional tensions” in the sea, a clear reference to incursions of Chinese vessels into shoals and islets well within the Philippines’ 360-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

China’s “unilateral coercive actions,” Del Rosario said, also seemed to be an assertion of sovereignty over the territories within Beijing’s self-proclaimed “nine-dash line,” which encompasses most of the sea, including waters within the economic exclusion zones of Southeast Asian nations.

Del Rosario again criticized China for its nine-dash claim in the sea, saying the delineation is “extremely close to the coasts of other littoral states.”

Arbitrary claims

“Arbitrary claims to maritime territory could also be arbitrarily invoked to regulate passage of ships through the large swath of maritime areas the nine-dash line encloses. On its face, this expansive claim could turn an international body of water into a lake of one nation,” Del Rosario warned his audience, which included members of the European Parliament, the diplomatic corps, Belgian government and European Union (EU) officials and European think tanks.

Besides the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan claim territories in the West Philippine Sea, where islets, atolls and reefs are believed to be sitting on vast deposits of oil and gas.

Del Rosario’s remarks in Brussels echoed statements he made on June 30 before foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and dialogue partners in Brunei, where he blasted China for its “massive military buildup” in the West Philippine Sea.

After disappearing for a few days last week, Chinese ships have returned to Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground west of Zambales within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Three Chinese vessels have also converged on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the Philippines’ part of the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the West Philippine Sea.

More complex

Del Rosario touched on other regional security concerns such as the dispute between China and Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea and tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but he described the West Philippine Sea rivalry as “more complex.”

“We must manage the maritime territorial disputes that have come to recent prominence in the East and South China Seas. These constitute the major security issues in the region’s seas. The overlapping multiple disputes in the South China Sea are the more complex, involving the legal rights of several littoral states over territories, maritime zones, fishing grounds, natural resource areas, transport and other uses of the sea,” Del Rosario said.

“We cannot afford to ignore these issues. Sweeping them under the rug may not work indefinitely. At some point, we must focus on their resolution, or at the very least, on their management in order to preempt the escalation of tensions,” Del Rosario said.

He underscored the West Philippine Sea’s importance to Europe, pointing out that the sea is a gateway to Asia.

“The importance of the South China Sea in European trade cannot be overemphasized. In fact, the opening of maritime trade routes spanning Europe, Asia and the Americas ushered in the modern world. The first great era of globalization was driven by trade in the age of sail,” he said.

“Ensuring the unfettered access of ships and maritime commerce through the region is therefore of interest not only to Asia and Europe, but to the international community as well,” he said.

Last resort

Del Rosario explained the Philippines’ decision to seek UN arbitration to resolve its territorial dispute with China, saying China’s “unilateral claim … must pass the bar of international law and conform in particular to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).”

The Philippines invoked Unclos in seeking UN arbitration to invalidate China’s nine-dash-line claim and halt its incursions into the country’s established maritime boundaries in the disputed waters.

China has refused to take part in the proceedings, but the process is continuing under Unclos provisions.

“The Philippines had exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. Our last resort therefore when confronted with increasing incursions into our territory was to utilize the legal track, which also covered the management of disputes,” Del Rosario said.

In March, the European Parliament expressed support for the Philippines’ peaceful approach to solving its territorial dispute with China, a position its members reiterated to Del Rosario during their meeting on Tuesday.

During his three-day visit to Belgium, Del Rosario also secured the support of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in their first meeting on July 8.

The council is the EU’s policy-making body.

Right path

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Van Rompuy called the Philippines’ arbitration bid “the right path to take” in seeking a legal remedy against China.

Amid the pending arbitration, the Philippines continues to seek a dialogue with China in hopes of settling the maritime dispute.

On the sidelines of the Asean ministerial meeting in Brunei, Del Rosario invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for “consultations” in Manila after “testy exchanges” between them during a closed session.

He said Wang told him that he would consider his invitation.

Toward the close of the meeting, China agreed to open “formal consultations” with Asean on a proposed code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea.

The consultations will be held in Beijing in September.


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  • chiefsiop

    china’s economy is now crumbling. China should try to cooperate with her neighbors.

    • MShaf

      Superpower dies harder. Soviet economy crumbled big time. But, Russia is still standing strong.

      • opinyonlangpo

        Putin saved it from collapse.

      • MShaf

        That is very true. That is what PH needs ….. a capable leader. I can see this in PNoy, but may be too early to tell.

      • opinyonlangpo

        It won’t happen. There are so many powerful crabs around to pull him down. In fact majority of the population are crabs.

      • Penny Lane

        didn’t the election a month ago resulted in the return of powerful crabs again?

      • chiefsiop

        but Russia is not the same any more. Her Influence to her neighbors(under the iron curtain and warsaw pact) decreased dramatically. Once a proud and feared communist now a second rate behind China. This is embarrassing! China will suffer the same fate if She continues to be a bully. Her neighbors will gang up on her and she will be the laughing stock in this lifetime.

  • Crusader

    Finally a high-ranking Filipino government official got the guts to call South China Sea by it’s traditional and more familiar and convenient name. Some progress.

    Now we played our final trump card: bringing a terribly important issue to the attention of the international community. I could only hope it’ll go well because predicting it’s outcome would mean predicting a million inter-dependent variables.

  • disqusted0fu

    If the Aquino administration focused on trying to reclaim Sabah than an island in the Scarborough shoal, it would’ve had a better chance. As opposed to this where we are getting bullied. Besides, Sabah is more worth fighting for anyway.

    • MShaf

      Really?

    • opinyonlangpo

      What Sabah? Its gone forever.

    • Tommy

      With enough international support, we can feasibly reclaim those small islands.

      Even with unanimous global support, Malaysia isn’t giving up Sabah without warfare.

    • TotoyKalentong

      the difference is, Sabah has an indigenous population whose right to self-determination must be respected first. we are not in the colonization era when territories are passed from one country to another.

  • SaintJames2011

    Based on WIKILEAKS information!

    Chinese authorities have failed to identify specific historical evidence backing Beijing’s claims that it owns disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea, a confidential US embassy cable published by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said.

    Cable 08BEIJING3499, sent to Washington by the US embassy in Beijing in September 9, 2008, said a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) official and a local scholar could not identify specific historical records to justify China’s “Nine Dashes” claim that covers the whole Spratlys and areas within other countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

  • ProudToBePinoy75

    Negative news about china’s economy are on the frontpage everyday. china is on its way down now. good for them.

  • ProudToBePinoy75

    Mongoloid chinks are the most hated race in the world. Mabuhay ang pilipinas.

  • joboni96

    ipagpatuloy ang pagpalakas ng depensa
    yan lang naiintindihan ng intsik switik

    kaso after 3 years of pnoy
    wala pa ring missile corvettes at fighters

    mga kolonisadong utak kasi sa dnd at afp
    mahilig sa pormang magarbo at sa laki kita

    kikita rin kayo sa mga surplus na mabilis dumating
    lalakas pa pilipino sa in-country upgrading



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