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Aquino to China: Adhere to UN pact

President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday said China should adhere to the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos) that provides for Philippine sovereignty over the Recto Bank located well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

In an interview with reporters in a military camp in Cotabato City, Mr. Aquino also said China should explain to the international community the validity of its claim over the isle just west of Palawan, which Beijing calls Reed Bank.

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The President called on the United Nations, United States and all other countries that use the West Philippine Sea to insist that concerned states adhere to international laws that in this case, he says, means the Unclos.

“More than anything else, the issue here is all claimants keep on saying that let us adhere to international law and for the nth time the international law involved is (Unclos),” he said.

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He said the Unclos, adopted by countries including China in 1982, provides for an exclusive economic zone 320 kilometers (200 nautical miles) from a country’s continental shelf.

Noting that the Recto Bank is just 130 km from Palawan, Mr. Aquino said the area is beyond China’s economic zone because it is 900 km from Hunan Island which is China’s closest point.

“We expect China to adhere to that and with America backing us up and other Asean claimants, we expect that the UN, America and other interested parties, who have to traverse this body of water will insist on their freedom of navigation and adherence to Unclos.”

China tells US to keep off

But in Beijing, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai urged the United States on Wednesday to leave the West Philippine Sea dispute to the claimant states, saying that the US involvement may make the situation worse.

Cui’s comments to reporters were China’s most direct warning to Washington in recent weeks. It came amid the biggest flare-up in regional tensions in years over competing maritime sovereignty claims in the disputed territory, an area believed to be rich in oil and gas.

China has become more assertive in its claim to the waters, parts of which are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

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“The United States is not a claimant state to the dispute in the South China Sea and so it’s better for the United States to leave the dispute to be sorted out between claimant states,” Cui said at a briefing ahead of the first round of consultations on Asia-Pacific affairs in Hawaii on Saturday.

Wrong to cave in

The President defended the Philippines’ assertion of its sovereignty over its territory in the West Philippine Sea, saying it would be wrong to cave in to China’s claims just because it’s a bigger country.

“We’ve already filed many protests. They’ve already filed protests against us. What’s important here is … let them defend themselves in the international fora as to where the validity of their claim lies in,” he said.

“For us, just to move forward, we may not agree on the disputed territories like, for instance, the Spratlys. But we didn’t have any dispute over the Reed Bank. We’ve been there since the 1970s. It seems they came up with their nine-dash theory only in late 2000,” he added.

China’s relatively new nine-dash theory refers to its map that indicates its sovereignty over the South China Sea, or as the Philippines would call it, the West Philippine Sea.

Duty-bound

“Why was this area excluded (from the dispute) suddenly included?” Mr. Aquino said.

“I don’t think that I would be doing my duty to the people and to the state if (we) agree (with China) that, ‘Go ahead. Take whatever you want because you’re bigger than us.’ That seems to be a wrong principle,” Mr. Aquino said.

“Our basis for our claim is well-founded especially under this treaty, ratified by so many countries including China.”

Mr. Aquino made the remarks after Sen. John McCain called on Washington to extend military and political support to concerned members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to stand up to China over the contested territories.

Playing with fire

“While some American friends may want the United States to help in this matter, we appreciate their gesture but more often than not such gestures will only make things more complicated,” Cui said.

Cui and US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell will cohost the consultations in Hawaii.

“If the United States wants to play a role, it may counsel restraint to those countries that have been taking provocative action and ask them to be more responsible in their behavior,” he said.

“I believe the individual countries are actually playing with fire and I hope the fire will not be drawn to the United States.”

Not responsible

Cui emphasized that China was not responsible for the dispute in the West Philippine Sea and said it was greatly concerned by frequent provocation by other countries.

“We are troubled by some recent events in the South China Sea but we were not the party who provoked these incidents,” he said.

“If you examine the facts closely, you will recognize who are the countries that have occupied islands under other countries’ sovereignty by illegal means. It was certainly not China. Who are the countries that have done the most to explore oil and gas resources in the region? It was certainly not China, he added.

“Who are the countries that displayed force or used force against the fishermen of other countries? Again, it was certainly not China.”

Largest claim

China’s claim is by far the largest, forming a large U-shape over most of the sea’s 1.7 million square kilometers, including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

The latest spell of tension began last month when Vietnam said Chinese boats had harassed a Vietnamese oil exploration ship. China said Vietnamese oil and gas exploration undermined its rights in the West Philippine Sea. Hanoi refers to the body of water as the East Sea.

Navy ships from Vietnam and China held a two-day joint patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnamese state media reported on Tuesday, in a sign that tension over the disputed maritime border may be easing. With a report from Reuters

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TAGS: Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, Paracel Islands, President Benigno Aquino III, Recto Bank, Reed Bank, Sen. John McCain, Spratly Islands, UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos), Vietnam, West Philippine Sea
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