PH seeks freeze in South China Sea
MANILA, Philippines–Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday said the Philippines would propose to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) a moratorium on activities in the South China Sea that raise tensions in disputed waters, two days after China began building a school on an island in the Paracels contested by Vietnam.
Speaking in an interview on ANC, Del Rosario said he expected China to push more aggressively its expansion plan in the South China Sea.
Del Rosario said he found “reasonable” a suggestion from Danny Russel, the top US diplomat in Asia, for a freeze in activities of all the claimants to territory in the South China Sea that escalate tensions while a code of conduct is being worked out.
He said he would propose that the Asean call for a moratorium, which could be done this year, and added that the Philippines was supporting the proposal of Indonesia for a meeting on tensions in the South China Sea.
“We are looking for a consensus and then set a meeting,” Del Rosario said.
China is likely to ignore any call for a freeze to activities in the South China Sea.
It is reclaiming land on various reefs in the contested Spratly Islands that it can use as offshore military outposts.
On Saturday, China began building a school on Woody Island in the Paracels to serve the children of its military personnel stationed there.
China calls Woody Island Sansha and ignores Vietnam’s claim to it and other islands in the Paracel chain.
Del Rosario said the tensions between the Philippines and China were caused by Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea, including land reclamation in the Spratly Islands and all had to do with its “aggressive expansion agenda.”
“For example, we have been restricted in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), we have been blockaded at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal)… . [There is land] reclamation on various [reefs], which is intended to change the character, the features there, to change the status quo ultimately, to promote their expansion agenda,” he said.
Del Rosario said China was pressing the expansion to beat the conclusion of a code of conduct with the Asean and a decision from the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on Manila’s case challenging Beijing’s claim to 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea.
He said something must be done quickly, citing the importance to the entire international community of the freedom of navigation and the freedom of overflight in the region.
Air defense zone
Asked about the possibility of China declaring an air defense identification zone over the West Philippine Sea, Del Rosario said the former Chinese ambassador, Ma Keqing, had “threatened us with that.”
“We think this is a threat and something that China may consider at some point. It’s obviously a [threat to the freedom of overflight],” he said.
Del Rosario also said the Philippines hoped the UN arbitral tribunal would hasten its decision on Manila’s case against Beijing.
China has refused to take part in the proceedings, citing its “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, but the tribunal has ordered it to respond to the Philippines’ petition by Dec. 15.–With a report from AP
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