WHEN it comes to the territorial row, China does not want the United Nations (UN) to intervene and demands that the Philippines should resolve the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea dispute with China alone, through bilateral talks.
Should the Philippines just go with what China wants?
President Benigno S. Aquino III remains undaunted with the Philippine government’s decision to pursue the arbitration case in a UN tribunal, despite Beijing’s ominous warnings of consequences.
“We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we have the right to defend our own interests,” Aquino told the media.
Though cognizant of the Philippines’ limitations in terms of military capabilities, Pres. Aquino maintains that “the state shall pursue an independent foreign policy and in its relations with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self-determination.”
“I subscribed to this oath when I assumed office. I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty…We went through arbitration primarily because that is a means to resolve the dispute consistent with the policy that is peaceful and in conformity with the international law,” the president added.
On March 30, the Philippines asked a UN arbitral tribunal to declare Beijing’s claims over most of the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea as a violation of international law, submitting nearly 4,000 pages of evidence to back its case.
The standoff between China and the Philippines escalated further, when the Chinese harassed Philippine ships attempting to replenish the supplies of Filipino soldiers stationed in Ayungin Shoal.
The outpost, however, was successfully restocked over the weekend, after a civilian ship outmaneuvered the Chinese vessels.
“The Philippines must bear all consequences for its provocations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said Monday, in pointed comments on the UN case and the latest maritime standoff between the two countries on Saturday.
Hong accuses the Philippines of using the Ayungin incident to hype up the Philippines’ case, ahead of the UN filing.
China has been consistent in its refusal to take part in the UN arbitration, warning that bilateral relations between the Philippines and China will suffer.
“This fully shows that the Philippines’ unilateral moves of international arbitration is to cover up the fact to occupy Chinese territory and create troubles in the South China Sea. This is political provocation by abusing international laws,” Hong said.
Asserting its ownership of disputed waters, Hong said that “China will not allow the Philippine side to illegally occupy (Second Thomas Shoal) in any form.”
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea — a vital avenue for world trade that is also believed to harbor vast oil and gas reserves. Such territorial claims overlap those of the Philippines, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Philippines contends China’s claims, saying that they are illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and that they interfere with Manila’s sovereign rights to its continental shelf.
While the United States has not taken any position in the territorial dispute between the two countries, it has maintained the importance of freedom of navigation in the vital waterway.
The US went further to criticize China, through a statement issued by State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf. “The attempted Chinese blockade, which led to a two-hour standoff with the Philippine ship, is a provocative and destabilizing action,” she told reporters.
Harf further said that the Philippines has permission to resupply troops stationed at the remote reef (The Second Thomas Shoal) because they have kept a naval presence on the shoal, even before the 2002 declaration of conduct in the South China Sea.
“As a treaty ally of the Republic of the Philippines, the United States urges China to refrain from further provocative behavior by allowing the Philippines to continue to maintain its presence at Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal),” she was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“It is a political provocation by abusing international legal means,” Hong counter-argued, stressing that China will, by no means, allow the Philippines to seize the Ayungin Shoal, in any way.
Hong contends that such disputes are “excluded” from the arbitration process of the UN sea treaty.
China also warned the US not to intervene with the maritime dispute between its ally, the Philippines, and China.
“America is not a party concerned over the South China Sea dispute,” and has reiterated it took no positions on sovereignty issues, Hong said.
“We urge the American side to honor its commitment and do more things that are conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Meantime, the Aquino administration is ready for China’s anticipated sanctions against the Philippines, following its decision to question a territorial dispute with the China through the UN arbitral tribunal.
Would the Philippines’ seeking UN intervention hurt or help in its escalating territorial standoff vs China?
Should the US stay out of the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China?
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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos