U.S. Backs The Philippines In Sea Dispute With China

Citing the importance of peace and stability in Asia-Pacific region, the  United States has thrown its full support behind the Philippines’ bid for  arbitration in the United Nations to settle a territorial dispute with China in  the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In remarks before talks with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario in  Washington on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated his  government’s support for a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea, home to  vital sea lanes and islands believed to be sitting on vast energy and mineral  reserves.

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“The Philippines is one of our five Asia-Pacific allies and a very, very  important relationship at this point in time when there are tensions over the  South China Sea, where we support a code of conduct, and we are deeply concerned  [about] some of those tensions and would like to see it worked out through a  process of arbitration,” Kerry told reporters at the US Department of State. A  transcript of his remarks was posted on the department’s website.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Philippine  Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario pose for a photo prior to talks at the  Department of State in Washington on Tuesday. AFP

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The West Philippine Sea dispute has long been a matter of keen interest for  Kerry who, as senator, “was a moving force” behind a resolution in the US Senate  seeking a peaceful settlement of disputes in those waters, Del Rosario said  after his meeting with the new top US diplomat.

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A Chinese marine surveillance ship in disputed waters on January 19. Photo: AFP

Kerry replaced former State Secretary Hillary Clinton, who left the  Department of State at the start of the second term of the administration of  President Barack Obama in February.

Del Rosario said Kerry discussed US support for the arbitration proceedings  during their meeting and that Kerry “emphasized the importance the US gives to  maintaining peace and stability in the area.”

“More importantly, Secretary Kerry assured me that the US is committed to  supporting the efforts of the Philippines to settle the disputes peacefully and  in accordance with the rule of law,” Del Rosario said in a statement released  separately by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

China not participating

China has refused to take part in the arbitration and dismissed the  Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea as  full of historical  errors and based on a wrong interpretation of the United Nations Convention on  the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

Philippine officials say, however, that the arbitration can proceed even  without China’s participation.

While its rulings are binding on the parties concerned, the UN arbitral  tribunal has no powers to enforce them.

Del Rosario’s meeting with Kerry was the first for the two officials since  the former Democratic presidential challenger’s appointment to the US Department  of State in February.

Del Rosario said he explained to Kerry the importance  of the arbitration to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region in  particular and to the effectiveness of international law in general.

“I stressed that we are committed to seeing this  arbitration through. There should be no confusion or any doubts about our  resolve,” he added.

Chinese incursions

Filed in January, the Philippine legal action seeks to  stop Chinese incursions into parts of the West Philippine Sea that are within  established Philippine maritime boundaries and hopes to nullify China’s claim to  nearly the entire sea, including parts within the maritime borders of some  countries in the region.

In refusing to take part in the arbitration, China  asserted its “indisputable sovereignty” over the waters and insisted that the  dispute may only be resolved through direct negotiations.

A Vietnamese fishing boat is released on April 20, 2012 after being detained by Chinese authorities over allegations of illegal fishing at China’s Xisha Islands. Just recently Vietnam says a Chinese ship set a Vietnamese fishing boat on fire in the South China Sea. Fishermen from the Philippines have had similar run ins with China.

Del Rosario said he and Kerry agreed to press for a  peaceful resolution to the maritime dispute when ministers of the Association of  Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meet in Brunei later this month.

Asean failed to issue a joint statement after a  ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh last year due to disagreements over how the  bloc should handle China on the maritime issue.

“We agreed to work closely together, particularly in  the coming Asean ministerial and summit meetings to maintain peace in the area  and to resolve the disputes through peaceful means and in accordance with the  rule of law,” Del Rosario said.

Defense partnership

Del Rosario and Kerry also committed to furthering the  strategic defense partnership between the Philippines and the US in the face of  “current challenges to the peace and stability of East Asia.”

“Our ability to deter threats or provocations is an  important part of this cooperation. In this context, we discussed our joint  efforts to build the capacity of the Philippines to defend its territory and  people. We also exchanged views on the implementation of our agreed policy of  increased rotational presence and enhanced exercises,” Del Rosario said.

He said he and Kerry also agreed to continue  Philippine-US cooperation during times of natural disasters, particularly in the  areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

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-in-sea-row#ixzz2PWs7hmD1

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Photo: Chinese Marine Surveillance officers monitor Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea. Vietnam has just started to create a similar maritime force.

Below: graphic shows that China thinks it “owns” all the South China Sea inside the dashed red area….
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Above: People from the Philippines represent their government’s “ownership” of islands in the South China sea by flying their flag on islands China also says it owns….

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