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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        9  March 2011

Beijing “wrong” in sea incident

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China breached international law when two of its patrol boats threatened a Philippine oil exploration vessel in disputed areas of the South China Sea last week, a former dean of Law at the University of the Philippines said.

According to Merlin Magallona, an expert on the Spratly Islands dispute and a former undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the department should have summoned Chinese Ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao to explain the incident or “explain to him how the Philippines feels.”

“Although it did not escalate into a use of force, the threat of force can be sufficient for a breach of international obligation under the United Nations charter,” Magallona on Monday said during a dinner reception for President Sang-Hyun Song of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in San Juan City (Metro Manila).

The former UP Law dean is the Philippine representative to the establishment of the ICC in Rome in 1998.

The incident between the two Chinese boats and the Philippine vessel happened on Wednesday last week at the Reed Bank while the Philippine ship was conducting an oil exploration survey in the area, actually Philippine territory.

As a result of the incident, the government has stepped up sea patrols in there.

The Reed Bank is situated between the offshore Malampaya gas field and the Spratly Islands. Reports said that the Chinese boats maneuvered close to the Philippine vessel at least twice, apparently trying to show that they can ram the vessel.

Earlier, the Foreign Affairs department sent a note verbale to the Chinese government and asked for an explanation on the incident but was yet to receive a reply.

Magallona, however, said that even the official statement from the Chinese Embassy in Manila was an “admission” that the Chinese side breached international agreement.

Ethan Sun, spokesman and deputy chief of the political section of the embassy in Manila, said in a statement that China has always adhered to the principles of the Declaration of the Code of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

He added that the “such disputes” must be settled based on the DOC—a non-binding edict signed by claimant- countries to reduce tensions, resolve claims over the islands and improve the political climate in the South China Sea.

“His statement is an admission that the matter is under the settlement of a dispute even by the declaration that he was citing. It proved the fact that the entire dispute is under the regime of settlement by that declaration,” Magallona said.

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