US urges PH, China to respect UN ruling
WASHINGTON—The United States on Thursday urged respect for a decision on territorial disputes in the South China Sea set to be handed down by an international arbitration court next week.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Dutch city of The Hague is set to make its final decision on July 12 in the case between the Philippines and China.
“We urge both parties to comply with the ruling and urge all claimants to avoid provocative actions or statements,” Abraham Denmark, the senior Pentagon official responsible for East Asia, told a congressional hearing about the decision, already rejected in advance by Beijing.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea strategically important for world maritime trade where the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.
Although Washington is not directly part of the territorial disputes, it has urged they be resolved through diplomacy, not Chinese force.
Beijing has artificially enlarged islets and reefs to build runways, ports and other installations to legitimize its claims.
US boosts presence
The United States has meanwhile boosted its military presence in the region, dealing with neighboring countries’ concerns about China’s actions. Washington has also strengthened its defense alliances with the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is currently patrolling the sea.
The Virginia-based Navy Times reported this week that three US destroyers—Spruance, Stethem and Momsen—have been patrolling near the artificial islands that China has built in the Spratly archipelago and Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a resource-rich reef that China wrested from Philippine control in 2012.
“We will provide critical support for diplomacy by providing a credible deterrent against the use of force,” Denmark said.
China will ‘fight back’
Chinese media on Tuesday said Beijing was ready for a “military confrontation” with the United States in the region.
On Friday, the Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling Communist Party and often takes a nationalistic tone, said: “If the US and the Philippines act on impulse and carry out flagrant provocation, China will not take a single step back.”
Faced with further escalation from Manila, the paper said China would “fight back.”
It could turn Panatag Shoal “into a military outpost,” the paper said, and “tow away or sink” an old landing craft, the BRP Sierra Madre, that Manila grounded on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal in 1999 to mark its territory in the Spratly archipelago, to “resolve the standoff once and for all.”
The loss of Panatag Shoal forced the Philippines to bring the case in January 2013.
Most officials and analysts expect the arbitral tribunal’s decision to go against China, depriving it of its basis in claiming almost all of the South China Sea.
President Duterte, earlier this week proposed dialogue with China following the court’s decision next week, offering discussions about issues such as setting up joint ventures for sharing resources in the disputed waterway.
“If it’s favorable to us, let’s talk. We are not prepared to go to war. War is a dirty word now, but we will proceed accordingly after we shall have the copy of the arbitral judgment,” Mr. Duterte said.
His foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay, on Friday said the Philippines was willing to share natural resources with China even if it won the case.
Yasay said the Duterte administration hoped to quickly begin direct talks with China following the court ruling, with the negotiations to cover jointly exploiting the sea’s natural gas reserves and fishing grounds with the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
US officials testifying at Thursday’s congressional hearing declined to say whether any move by China to militarize more disputed land features would prompt US military response.
World is watching
Denmark said the arbitral court’s ruling would be a chance to determine “whether the Asia-Pacific’s future will be defined by adherence to international laws and norms that have enabled it to prosper, or whether the region’s future will be determined by raw calculations of power.”
Rep. Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on sea power, said that the world is watching whether China behaves like a responsible stakeholder in the international system, and, if not, to see how America responds.
“What we do or don’t do to support our allies and the rules-based international system in the weeks ahead will have echoes across the region and in other corners of the globe,” Forbes said.
Senior US state department official Colin Willett told the hearing that the United States would not hesitate to defend its national security interests and honor commitments to Asia-Pacific allies and partners.
But Denmark declined to comment on whether militarization of Panatag Shoal by China would hurt US national security interests, or invoke a US-Philippine treaty, which calls for the allies to help defend each other if there is an armed attack on their Armed Forces, public vessels, aircraft or island territories under their jurisdiction in the Pacific.
“Scarborough Reef is a disputed feature that we don’t recognize any countries sovereignty over. That said, our treaty commitment to the Philippines is absolutely ironclad,” Willet said. Reports from AFP and AP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.