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PHL: China statement on territorial dispute 'baseless'

July 15, 2013 4:48pm
The Philippines on Monday blasted China's Foreign Ministry for saying that Manila is spreading “misleading” and “incorrect” information on the status of its territorial disputes with Beijing in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez branded as “baseless” the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry that said “the Philippines’ claim that it had exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful settlement of dispute is completely not true.”

The exchange of diplomatic barbs is the latest manifestation of longstanding territorial feud between Asian superpower China and the Philippines over South China Sea territories that have reignited in recent years by tense confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in two disputed shoals – Scarborough and Ayungin – off Manila’s western coasts.

Hernandez said since August 1995, the two Asian nations have been exchanging views on the disputes in attempts to achieve a negotiated solution.

“However, despite more than 17 years of consultations, no progress has been made,” he said, adding that the two sides have had nearly 50 consultations when a standoff in the Scarborough Shoal, or locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, erupted in April last year.

Subsequent plans to meet, he said, were further overtaken by continuing intrusions by China in Philippine waters since April 2012,  particularly in the Scarborough Shoal, which Manila says is within its territory but is being claimed by China even it is far from its nearest landmass of Hainan province.

“In all of these dialogues, China has consistently maintained its hard line position of 'indisputable sovereignty' over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, based on historical facts,” Hernandez said.

Speaking in Filipino, Hernandez said China’s unequivocal message is: “Tanggapin ninyo na amin ang buong South China Sea bago tayo mag-usap (acknowledge that the entire South China is ours before we talk.).”

UNCLOS

“It has, therefore, become impossible to continue bilateral discussions on disputes in the West Philippine Sea with China on the basis of this rigid position. This led us to finally resort to arbitration under Annex VII of the UNCLOS,” Hernandez said.

UNCLOS stands for United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,  a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states.

The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty, which also allows member-states to seek legal remedy on territorial disputes through mediation.

Despite the risks of standing up to China, the Philippines sought arbitration under the UNCLOS last January to question the legality of Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

China has dismissed the Philippine action, which got the backing of several Asian and Western nations like Japan, the United States and European Union.  

Other Asian nations, including those with territorial disputes with China, have not been as aggressive to protect their trade relations with Beijing and avoid incurring China’s ire.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims over portions of the South China Sea, where undersea gas deposits have been discovered.

Wrong course

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying claimed the Philippines “is keen on attacking China in international settings while unilaterally shutting the door for negotiation and consultation.”

“Such practice is anything but helpful to solve the issue. China urges the Philippine side to change its wrong course, stop misleading public opinion and come back to the right track of solving the dispute through bilateral negotiation and consultation,” Hua had said.

Hernandez belied Hua’s accusations, saying “we had all along been indicating publicly our three-track approach of diplomatic, political, and legal tracks, including arbitration.”

“Prior to our filing of the arbitration case, in contradiction with China’s declaration in the ASEAN meetings in Brunei that we did not signal a possible Philippine arbitration track, we did invite China to join us in bringing the issue to a dispute settlement mechanism to resolve the issue on a long-term basis,” Hernandez said.

“This was officially communicated through a note verbale dated April 26, 2012. In its official response to our note verbale, China stated that our proposal was a ‘none ground’ issue and it urged the Philippines ‘to refrain from any infringement on China’s territorial sovereignty.’”

Invitations

On various occasions, Hernandez said the Philippines verbally invited China to join them before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to determine which among the two states has sovereign rights over the Scarborough Shoal.

“In fact, during the very first official visit of Secretary Albert del Rosario to China in July 2011, he proposed to Chinese top leaders to jointly bring this issue to ITLOS for adjudication. During the visit, Secretary Del Rosario met at length with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi who subsequently brought the Secretary to meet with then Vice President Xi Jinping,” Hernandez explained.

He also said Del Rosario thrice relayed during his visits to Beijing the invitation for the Chinese Foreign Minister to visit Manila for consultations.

“Up to now, we are awaiting a favorable response to our renewed invitations,” Hernandez said.

Meanwhile, he said the Philippines “remains steadfast in peacefully resolving the West Philippine Sea dispute before the Arbitral Tribunal, which is now in place.”

Despites disagreements, Hernandez said the Philippines adheres to the agreement reached between the leaders of the Philippines and China in 2011 “not to let the maritime disputes affect the broader picture of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.” — KBK, GMA News



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