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US supports PHL initiative to settle Panatag Shoal dispute in intl court

A US official on Thursday said Washington supports the Philippine initiative to resolve the dispute between Manila and Beijing over Panatag Shoal through legal means.   The US government also backs the adoption of a Code of Conduct regarding the area also known as South China Sea, US ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas told reporters during Thursday’s Kapihan sa Embahada.   The code, currently being refined by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), would impose legally binding guidelines on the use of the disputed area.   Both proposals are being opposed by Beijing which asserts bilateral negotiations with all claimants to all or parts of West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), including Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Philippines.   China’s claim is based on its nine-dash line that, in turn, is based on part of the 1947 map with which Beijing declared ownership over 90 percent of South China Sea.   US not taking sides   Thomas said the US position is not partial to any of the claimants. “We take no sides in this territorial disputes as we are also partners of other claimant countries,” he said.   “We want all parties to sit down… and we oppose coercion of any nation. We support the Code of Conduct in  the South China Sea…” the ambassador noted.   Joy Yamamoto, political section counselor and acting deputy chief of mission of the US embassy in Manila, echoed Thomas’ statement.   “We have been very consistent throughout this dispute in supporting international law in settlement of dispute, so we continue to support China and the Philippines to settle the issue through international means,” said Yamamoto.   Long-term commitment   On the perception of US partiality toward the Philippines, with Washington providing Manila with military equipment, Thomas said, “We don’t try to speak for the Philippines or any nation.   “US is firm in its commitment for peaceful resolution of conflict and the cross cutting claims.”   However, the US has reaffirmed its long-term commitment toward its long-time ally when President Benigno Aquino III met with President Barack Obama in Washington earlier this month, the ambassador said.   China and the Philippines are still in a standoff over Panatag Shoal, which started last April. —Anna Mae Lamentillo/VS, GMA News