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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    29 May 2012

Clinton’s comments on West Philippine Sea alarms China

29 May 2012

China has expressed concern about remarks made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said that Beijing’s claim in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) exceeded what was permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

In a report posted Monday on its website, the Chinese Embassy in Makati City quoted Hong Lei, spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, as saying that China had raised concerns about Clinton’s opinion when other countries had chosen to adopt a hands-off policy on the issue.

"On the issue of the South China Sea, nonclaimant (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries and countries outside the region have adopted a position of not getting involved in territorial disputes,” Hong said.

"On this important prerequisite and foundation, the Chinese side has consistently committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea, region by means, such as negotiating and signing with Asean countries the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in parallel with our efforts to pursue dispute settlement through negotiations with countries directly concerned,” she said.

Two Democratic senators—John Kerry and Barbara Boxer—also criticised China’s claim in  the West Philippine Sea at last week’s hearing of the US Senate committee on foreign relations.

Kerry, the panel chair, said “China and other countries are staking out illegal claims to the South China Sea and elsewhere.”

Boxer produced a map that  showed that China’s claims exceeded far beyond its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone provided for in Unclos and amounted to a “significant territorial grab that comes very close to the land borders of countries in the region.”

China, which is among the 160-plus nations that are party to Unclos that was concluded in 1982 and has been in force since 1994, has made expansive claims in the West Philippine Sea based mainly on ancient maps.

A map that China submitted to the UN in 2009 virtually claimed the entire West Philippine Sea. However, it failed to clarify the exact extent of its claims that overlap those of Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam and the Philippines.

According to the Chinese embassy, Hong also expressed concern about Manila’s supposed attempts to involve third parties in its conflict with Beijing over the Panatag (Scarborough)  Shoal also Bajo de Masinloc  to the Philippines and Huangyan Island to China.

"Attempts by the Philippine side to draw a third party into interfering or intervening through whatever means in Huangyan Island will surely escalate the situation and meet with firm opposition from the Chinese side,” Hong said.

She also claimed that “the Philippine side has taken some provocative actions recently in the Huangyan Island waters, and the Chinese side has correspondingly strengthened management and control measures.”

"It was learned that the Huangyan Island waters is now stable on the whole. About 20 Chinese fishing boats are working in that area and the number is basically the same with that in the same period of previous years. The so-called around 100 boats are mostly one-person dinghies from the fishing boats,” she said.

Hong pointed out the operations of these fishing boats are  in line with related Chinese laws and China’s fishing moratorium.

"China’s public service ships are exercising strict supervision over these fishing boats to prevent any law-breaching operation,” she said.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario expressed confidence that the Philippines could settle the Panatag Shoal dispute with China, as well as other West Philippine Sea-related issues, citing what he called the Department of Foreign Affairs’ comprehensive “overall plan”.

Del Rosario pointed out that the Chinese were “in violation of the Asean Declaration on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea when they are preventing us from enforcing our laws in our EEZ.”

According to the DFA head, they had “broken up the overall plan into diplomatic or political, legal and defence tracks.”

For the political track, he said the country would continue to push for the transformation of the West Philippine Sea into a zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation, where Manila would observe a rules-based approach to all disputes in accordance with Unclos.

For the legal track, the DFA plans to continue coordinating with other government agencies concerned as it resorts to a dispute settlement mechanism under Unclos.

For the defence track, Del Rosario said the foreign office had committed to help improve national defence by building a minimum credible defence posture to protect the country’s territorial integrity.

Del Rosario said that aside from the United States, at least three other countries—Japan, South Korea and Australia—were also helping the Philippines establish that defence posture.

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