China: PH tarnishing Beijing’s international image
MANILA, Philippines—China on Thursday accused the Philippines of “abuse of process” in seeking United Nations arbitration to settle disputes in the South China Sea, calling Manila’s move a “smear campaign” to tarnish Beijing’s image in the international community.
China blamed the Philippines for the maritime dispute, insisting yet again that it has sovereignty over the territories and reiterating it has a “solid historic[al] and legal basis” for its claim, playing down the relative proximity of some of the islands to the Philippines’ western coast.
“The Philippines’ arbitration proceeding completely confuses right and wrong, distorts the fact and diverts attentions. The aim of its move is to cover up the illegal nature of [the] Philippines’ infringement and provocative behavior by the abuse of process against China, and to defraud the international community of its sympathy and support,” Chinese Embassy spokesperson Zhang Hua said in a 12-page statement.
No comment from DFA
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) declined to comment on China’s diatribe.
On Wednesday, DFA spokesman Charles Jose said President Aquino had already spoken on the matter and that it had nothing to add to the Chief Executive’s statement.
Speaking at the Philippine National Police Academy graduation at Camp Mariano Castañeda in Silang town, Cavite province, on Monday, Aquino said the Philippines, by going for UN arbitration to settle the dispute, was “not challenging” or “provoking” China, but “defending” the country’s “own interest.”
Aquino spoke a day after the Philippines submitted its “memorial,” or memorandum, on the dispute to the UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague, the Netherlands, despite China’s warning that relations between the two countries would suffer.
On Tuesday, Chinese Chargé d’Affaires Sun Xiangyang told reporters in a no-questions news conference that the Philippines “seriously damaged” its relations with China by submitting the memorandum to the UN tribunal.
Not int’l litigation
Sun blasted Manila for “unilaterally” shutting the door to talks, as he reiterated that bilateral negotiations, not international litigation, should be the way to go.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario announced the submission of the memorandum in a rare Sunday news conference, something the Chinese Embassy in Manila noted.
“Recently, by submitting the memorial to the arbitral tribunal, the Philippine side has launched a media campaign to smear the Chinese side by playing up the South China Sea issue and the arbitration proceeding,” Zhang said. “All these willful acts exposed the real motive of the Philippines’ pushing for the arbitration proceeding.”
Zhang added: “No matter how the Philippine memorial is packaged, the direct cause of the disputes between China and the Philippines is the latter’s illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea.”
Discoverer of Spratlys
Asserting the extent of the Chinese territory, Zhang said China was “the first to discover, name, develop and operate on the Nansha (Spratly) Islands” and “the first country that exercised and has been exercising sovereign jurisdiction over the islands” in the West Philippine Sea.
He said that China “never bullies other countries” and that “we stick to the principle of not to attack unless attacked.”
Beijing summoned Philippine Ambassador to China Erlinda Basilio on Monday to protest Manila’s proceeding with the arbitration case.
Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told Basilio that China was “extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the case the Philippines had brought to the UN arbitral tribunal and it would not participate, according to the Chinese foreign ministry website.
The DFA remained mum Thursday on the Chinese protest.
The Philippines and China are disputing ownership of Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a rich fishing ground off Zambales province, and a number of islands, islets, reefs and shoals in the Spratly archipelago.
Panatag, Ayungin standoffs
Manila brought the arbitration case in January last year after China seized Panatag Shoal after a two-month standoff between Philippine and Chinese Coast Guard vessels in mid-2012.
The Philippines amended its case to include Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the Spratlys after two attempts by China to stop resupply vessels from getting to the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting naval ship that the government grounded on the shoal in 1999 to mark Philippine territory in the archipelago where Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims.
The arbitration case, a remedy the Philippines sought under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), seeks to nullify China’s claim over 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, including waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone called West Philippine Sea; clarify maritime boundaries in the area, and end Chinese incursions into the country’s economic exclusion zone.
Under the Unclos, nations enjoy exclusive sovereign rights to use natural resources within their economic exclusion zones and continental shelves.
The Philippines brought the case as a “last resort,” saying all attempts at negotiating with China had failed.
Zhang said that on the contrary, the Chinese side had always been open to talks, including through venues such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Code of conduct
Through the Asean, and with the backing of allies such as the United States, Australia and Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are advocating for the immediate conclusion with China of a binding code of conduct to prevent the competing territorial claims from erupting into confrontations.
Asean and China have signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which provides for the maintenance of the status quo pending negotiations.
But China is not in a hurry to conclude a code of conduct with Asean, preferring bilateral talks with its rivals in which it can only prevail because of its military might and economic clout.
With the weakest military in the region and with no economic clout to speak of, the Philippines prefers to deal with China on the dispute through Asean and, as China is getting more aggressive in asserting its claim, the United Nations.
But Beijing insists that international arbitration will not resolve its dispute with the Philippines and will “not change the fact that China owns sovereignty” over the Spratlys and their adjacent waters, and will not change China’s policy of resolving South China Sea disputes “through direct negotiations.”
“The Philippine side willfully initiated the arbitration under Unclos regardless of China’s legal rights as a party to the Unclos, and ignoring the fact that the essence of the disputes between China and the Philippines is the territorial disputes caused by Philippines’ illegal occupation of the islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands,” Zhang said.
“The real purpose of the Philippine side’s attack on the South China Sea dashed lines (the nine dashes on official Chinese maps showing China’s claim over nearly the whole sea) is to attempt to deny China’s sovereignty over Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, and cover up the illegality of the Philippines’ occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands, which the Chinese side will never accept,” Zhang said.
Zhang cited meetings between the Asean and China last year for the full implementation of the declaration of code of conduct and consultations on the proposed code of conduct as a reflection of the “utmost goodwill and sincerity of Chinese side’s continuous commitment to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
The Philippines said last year that China only agreed to consult, not negotiate, on the code of conduct. Beijing criticized Manila for trying to rush the code.
Manila maintains that China’s claim in the South China Sea is an “excessive declaration” of its maritime entitlements, as it encroaches into territories closer to the Philippines than the Chinese coast.
Earlier this year, the United States also issued its categorical rejection of the Chinese claim.
PH seized islands
But Zhang insisted it was the other way around, saying it was the Philippines that seized Chinese islands in the South China Sea.
“China has never thought of taking the Philippine territory. It is actually the Philippines that occupies China’s islands and reefs. Some people believe that these islands and reefs are closer to the Philippines, and therefore they belong to the Philippines. This has no basis in international law,” Zhang said.
“Geographical proximity has never been a criterion that determines the ownership of territory. Many countries in the world possess territories far away from their mainland or closer to other countries. All countries, big or small, should abide by the rules and stick to the truth,” he said.
Zhang said China had long been exercising sovereignty over the South China Sea until the Philippines initiated “military operations” in the Spratlys in 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1980.
“This is the most fundamental and direct cause of relevant disputes in the South China Sea between the two countries,” he said.
“As for what has happened in the South China Sea in recent years, all were provoked by the Philippines,” said Zhang, citing the 2012 standoff at Panatag Shoal and the grounding of the BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in 1999.
He said the Philippines “once clearly stated that Panatag Shoal “is not within its territory.”
As for Ayungin Shoal, Zhang reiterated China’s belief that the Philippine resupply vessel that was driven away from the shoal by the Chinese Coast Guard on March 9 was carrying “rebar and cement in order to reinforce the facilities on the reef.”
Zhang again called on the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin, saying the Philippine side promised to remove the ship 15 years ago.
“The sitting Philippine government was not the one 15 years ago, but as a country, the Philippines is obliged to honor its commitment. A public denial of its own promise will make it lose credibility to the international community,” Zhang said.
The DFA earlier said the Philippines never made such a commitment.