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DFA head: China hungry for oil, is potential threat

Using uncharacteristic forceful language for a diplomat, Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario trashed China’s claim over the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) area, calling it “baseless” and a “potential threat” to navigation in the region at the opening of Asia’s biggest security conference in the Indonesian resort island of Bali Saturday.

China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea appear to be motivated by a hunger to exploit the area’s rich oil and gas resources, Del Rosario said.

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In remarks at the 18th Asean Regional Forum (ARF) “retreat session” yesterday, Del Rosario said the Chinese claim had no validity under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), to which China is a signatory.

China’s claim to all of the West Philippine Sea is based on a Chinese map with nine dashes outlining its territory.

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This so-called “9-dash claim” to the West Philippine Sea would be rejected by an international court, said Del Rosario.

The Unclos gives a country sovereignty of up to 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) from its coast, including islands.

There is also the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that gives jurisdiction over natural resources, scientific research and building structures up to 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles).

“If Philippine sovereign rights can be denigrated by this baseless claim, many countries should begin to contemplate the potential threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” Del Rosario was quoted as saying by Raul Hernandez, the Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to the West Philippine Sea area, believed to be rich in oil and deposits and home to shipping lanes vital to global trade.

China claims all of the West Philippine Sea—which it refers to as the South China Sea—even up to the coast of Southeast Asian countries, as part of its historical territory.

Tensions in the decadeslong dispute flared in recent months amid accusations by the Philippines and Vietnam that China was being increasingly aggressive in staking its claim to the area.

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Powerful China’s behavior

Speaking on the sidelines of the ARF in Bali, Indonesia, Saturday, Del Rosario said China’s behavior in the disputed waters raised concerns about how it would treat its neighbors as it became more powerful.

“I think the wealth of the area in terms of hydrocarbon assets could stimulate an increased interest in the area,” Del Rosario later told AFP when asked why China had become more aggressive, as the Philippines has alleged.

He said the Philippines was looking at the West Philippine Sea events through a broader window of how China intended to treat other countries as it became more powerful.

“I think there is that concern that China is becoming more powerful,” he said.

“We support their progress and their growth. It is good for the region. But at the same time it is our expectation that their strength and their growth and their influence will be exercised in a responsible way,” he said.

The session’s participants included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign secretaries and ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Chinese government representative and those of other ARF member-countries.

Inside EEZs

In recent months, the Philippines and Vietnam have accused China of increasingly aggressive behavior in the sea, such as harassing fishermen and oil exploration vessels.

These incidents have been inside the EEZs of Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Philippines has said Chinese forces shot at Filipino fishermen, deployed navy patrol boats to intimidate an oil exploration vessel and placed markers on some of the islets.

Del Rosario informed the forum the Philippines had suffered “at least seven aggressive intrusions” into its territory in the West Philippine Sea since late February.

The Philippine military’s Western Command (Wescom) earlier said it had so far recorded nine intrusions this year, all of them involving the Chinese.

“These intrusions happened within 85 nautical miles from the nearest Philippine island of Palawan and nearly 600 nautical miles from the nearest coast of China,” Del Rosario said.

“When the Philippines protested these intrusions, the response was a denial that no such intrusions occurred because of China’s 9-dash line claim over the entire South China Sea,” he added.

Preventive diplomacy

He suggested the means through which the preventive diplomacy solution, as advocated by ARF, could be achieved.

“One, through a process of segregating the disputed features from the non-disputed waters which will have to be vetted by the Asean maritime legal experts scheduled to meet in September in Manila,” he said.

“Two, in the alternative, the parties may wish to consider subjecting the 9-dash line to validation in accordance with Unclos,” he said.

“The Philippines believes that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes in the South China Sea,” the foreign secretary said. With a report from AFP in Bali

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TAGS: 18th Asean Regional Forum, Alberto del Rosario, ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, DFA, Diplomacy, Foreign affairs, International relations, Maritime Dispute, Natural resources, oil, South China Sea, Spratlys, West Philippine Sea
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