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Philippines, China still miles apart on shoal issue

More than three weeks after they resumed talks, the Philippines and China have yet to find a temporary solution to their dispute over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

But Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has indicated that diplomats from the two countries are not giving up. “It’s a work in progress,” he said Wednesday in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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“We continue to seek a peaceful solution in addressing the current impasse through diplomatic consultations,” Del Rosario said.

Asked about the two countries’ relations, he said, “We would like to believe that the Philippines and China will adhere to our Beijing agreement on treating contentious issues separately as we endeavor to move our bilateral agenda forward.”

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Sometime in mid-2011, Del Rosario flew to China on the invitation of Chinese Foreign Secretary Yang Jiechi amid rising tensions over the two countries’ conflicting claims in the Spratlys group of islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario and Yang discussed the maritime disputes between the Philippines and China and agreed “not to let them affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.”

Last week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement that Manila was “committed to efforts aimed at defusing the tensions” in Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal. On the other hand, China refers to Scarborough as Huangyan Island.

“Talks are continuing between DFA and Chinese Embassy officials,” the DFA said.  “However, we have received reports from the Coast Guard that there is an increasing number and pattern of Chinese government vessels and fishing boats in the area … The Philippines protests these actions as clear violations of Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal and sovereign rights over the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that covers the waters around Bajo de Masinloc.”

The DFA said “these actions of China are also in violation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-China Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea.”

At the same time, the foreign office demanded that China’s vessels “immediately pull out from Bajo de Masinloc and the Philippines’ EEZ and for China to refrain from taking further actions that may exacerbate the situation in the West Philippine Sea.”

Early this month, Del Rosario disclosed that the two sides had resumed consultations to break the stalemate over Panatag Shoal.

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Del Rosario did not disclose the negotiation points, but going by China’s reported “requirement”—that Chinese public service ships at the shoal not to be disturbed—the consultations would lead to, at best, temporary agreements that would allow the two sides to disengage without losing face.

He also did not say how Manila was responding to Beijing’s demand. But he indicated that both sides did not expect to reach a lasting solution to the dispute this early.

“A diplomatic result ending the current impasse in Bajo de Masinloc, which we hope can be achieved, will at best be a temporary one,” Del Rosario said. “Ultimately, we will need an overall solution.”

Del Rosario has repeatedly said the West Philippine Sea remains a core national interest for the country, and “diplomatically, we are working to ensure that what is ours is ours, and a rules-based approach would be the only legitimate and viable way of addressing disputes.”

Citing the DFA’s comprehensive “overall plan” in promoting national security, Del Rosario said he was confident the Philippines could settle peacefully its Panatag Shoal dispute with China, as well as other West Philippine Sea-related issues.

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TAGS: China, Diplomacy, Foreign affairs, International relations, Maritime Dispute, Panatag Shoal, Philippines, West Philippine Sea
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