Resolving Spratlys row
BEIJING—China on Tuesday rejected calls by the Philippines for the two nations to bring their conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) before a United Nations-backed tribunal.
“China always maintains that the South China Sea dispute should be resolved… through direct negotiations between directly concerned countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters.
Hong added the row should also be dealt with according to “recognized international laws.”
The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea, which is believed to have vast oil and gas deposits, while its shipping lanes are vital for global trade.
The Philippines calls the strategic body of water the West Philippine Sea, while China refers to it as the South China Sea. Vietnam calls it the East Sea.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who visited China last week, said he had called for the dispute to be adjudicated by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in his meetings with senior officials.
The tribunal is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), to handle disputes.
Speaking to reporters after his visit, Del Rosario said he pointed out to Chinese officials that the Philippine claims over parts of the West Philippine Sea, including the Spratly Islands, were “based on international law, specifically Unclos.”
But Chinese officials said their claims were based on “historic rights,” Del Rosario said.
On Monday, China told the Philippines and Vietnam to use “diplomatic wisdom” to resolve tensions in the West Philippine Sea amid criticisms that Beijing was being increasingly aggressive in its claims.
“It is important to manage the conflicting points,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said in a speech on “China’s peaceful development and international environment” in Hong Kong on Monday.
“It takes diplomatic wisdom from China, from Vietnam and from the Philippines to make sure that our differences will be contained, well-managed and we will be able to not allow the differences to affect our relationship,” Fu said.
“You could see we are moving in that direction,” she said, acknowledging the countries in the territorial dispute all felt strongly about their claims.
Vietnam and the Philippines have in recent months accused China of taking increasingly aggressive actions in staking its claims.
In May, Vietnam said Chinese marine surveillance vessels cut the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines has accused China of inciting at least seven recent incidents, including one in which a Chinese vessel allegedly opened fire on Filipino fishermen.
In response, China has insisted it wants to resolve disputes peacefully but remains firm in its claims to most of the West Philippine Sea, even waters within the Philippines’ economic exclusion zone.
‘Out of proportion’
Fu also defended her country’s military buildup, dismissing regional fears following recent reports that China was building its first aircraft carrier amid tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“The Chinese defense development is going along with the progress of the country,” she said. “It is relatively weaker, it is not one of the strongest yet. The alarm on Chinese defense development is a bit blown out (of proportion).”
China’s top military officials reportedly confirmed in June that Beijing was building a huge aircraft carrier, a remodeled Soviet-era vessel, in its first acknowledgment of the ship’s existence. AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.