Philippines leader to discuss Spratlys with China
MANILA—President Benigno Aquino said Sunday he would discuss reported incidents between Philippine and Chinese ships and planes in the Spratlys with China’s defense minister to ease tensions over the disputed islands.
Aquino said he hoped his talks with visiting Defense Minister Liang Guanglie would help to avoid a real conflict over the chain of islands in the South China Sea, which both countries claim.
“In the interest of maintaining good bilateral relations, we will express our feelings and ask them how we should look at these incidents,” he told reporters.
“The end point of this is hopefully to minimize such incidents before we have a real conflict,” Aquino said, a day after Liang arrived in the Philippines on a four-day visit.
Aquino cited an incident in March when two Chinese vessels shadowed a Philippine oil exploration vessel while it was in the Spratlys.
He also cited an incident earlier this month when two foreign fighter jets flew near two Philippine air force OV-10 Bronco turboprops in the area.
Local press reports have said the jets were Chinese but the military would not confirm this.
Aquino said the incidents showed the need to have a legally binding “code of conduct” to prevent any conflicts over the territorial dispute between ASEAN members and China in the South China Sea.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been pushing China to agree to a binding “regional code of conduct” that will govern actions in the South China Sea.
This would replace a non-binding “declaration” by the claimants not to take destabilizing actions in the area but China has been reluctant to engage in multilateral talks with ASEAN.
The reputedly oil-rich chain of islands is claimed in whole or in part by China and the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam are all members of ASEAN.
Senator Joker Arroyo, meanwhile, said that the Philippines should not count on the United States to go to war with China over the disputed Spratly islands.
In the face of reported intrusions by two fighter jets in the vicinity of the Spratlys, Arroyo said the country could only rely on its military if a row with China over Spratlys erupted.
Despite the Visiting Forces Agreement that has been governing the conduct of visiting American troops in the country, Arroyo said the US has not issued any word of caution to China over the disputed islands.
“The US will not go to war with us,’’ he said on radio. “What we get is only the assurance of the US ambassador, but the words of the ambassador amount to nothing.’’
“We have to defend ourselves and not to think that America will defend us,’’ he added.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, for his part, said the intrusions by foreign fighter jets into Philippine airspace only further drove home the point that the Philippines was weak militarily.
“They’re doing that to us because we are a weak country. In international law, the law of force prevails. Diplomacy works where there are no special interests,’’ he said on radio.
The long-term solution, he said, would be to modernize the AFP and boost the fleet of Air Force.
“If they intrude into our air space, hit them with a rocket. But we should not be proud if we don’t have the capability,’’ he said.