MANILA, Philippines – With the Philippines’ arbitration bid progressing before the United Nations, Beijing has blasted Manila for its legal recourse to settle maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), and accused the Philippines of deviating from the agreed upon guidelines of discipline, as well as provoking tensions in the disputed waters.
In strongly worded remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying scored the Philippines for its “indifference” to China’s position and charged Manila with discrediting Beijing before the international community.
“We are firmly opposed to the Philippines’ indifference to China’s lawful rights and interests and legitimate concerns as well as its willful act of pushing for international arbitration,” said Hua in a statement posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website on Tuesday.
“It is difficult for China to understand how the Philippines could continue to play up the issue of the South China Sea, distort the facts and smear China,” she added.
Hua issued the comments as a rebuff to Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson’s eight-point statement on Monday, where the official defended the Philippines’ move to seek UN arbitration to halt Chinese incursions into its maritime zones in the disputed waters and invalidate China’s nine-dash line claim.
The five-member arbitral tribunal has just initiated proceedings on the Philippines’ case at The Hague, continuing despite China’s refusal to take part in the process.
Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said Monday that “it has become impossible to continue bilateral discussions” with China given its “rigid” and “hard line position of indisputable sovereignty” over the West Philippine Sea following more than 17 years of failed negotiations and consultations.
He maintained that the Philippines has always been committed to peacefully resolving the discord and to work towards a binding Code of Conduct to institutionalize the bounds of discipline among claimant states, upgrading the current Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Hua’s retort on Tuesday continues a string of fiery exchanges between Manila and Beijing of late, including verbal swaps between Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi behind closed doors in June’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministerial meetings in Brunei.
As he appealed for a peaceful resolution to the dispute, Del Rosario also recently scored China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea before members of the European Parliament, Belgian officials and maritime experts in Brussels, saying Beijing’s military buildup presents a challenge to freedom of navigation in critical international sea lanes in the disputed waters.
China maintains vessels at the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal off Palawan and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, the site of a tense standoff between the two countries last year, despite repeated appeals from the Philippines for Beijing to respect the country’s exclusive economic zone.
But Beijing saw the Philippines’ moves as an act meant to taint China.
“It is difficult for China to understand how could the Philippines continue to play up the issue of the South China Sea, distort the facts and smear China,” said Hua.
“It is regrettable that over recent years, the Philippines has changed its attitude and approach in handling the issue, gone back on its consensus with China, broken its commitment in the DOC, cast aside the framework of dialogue upheld by a majority of countries, refused to cooperate, aggravated the situation and set off the incident of the Huangyan Island (Panatag Shoal) by harassing Chinese civilians with warships, casting a shadow over China-Philippine relations and peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hua said.
Hua further blamed the Philippines for provoking tensions in the waters, scoring the country’s presence in parts of the Spratly Islands (Nansha to the Chinese).
“The Philippines’ illegal occupation of some of the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands is the direct cause to the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines. China sticks to the longstanding position of safeguarding national territorial sovereignty, which is totally legitimate,” said Hua.
She asserted Beijing’s commitment to regional peace and stability and its long-standing position of seeking bilateral negotiations to settle the international maritime dispute, which also involves claimants Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
On the contrary, the Philippines has long been seeking a multi-lateral approach, engaging venues like the Asean to take a unified approach in settling the dispute with China.
Since last year, the Philippines has filed a flurry of diplomatic protests to Chinese actions concerning the West Philippine Sea, including the establishment of a new city to administer almost all of the disputed territories, the stamping of maps bearing the questioned nine-dash line on new Chinese passports and the conduct of military drills and patrols in contested waters.