BOTH countries agree, Beijing’s reclamation in the South China Sea agitate Philippines’ and United States’ governments.
The two countries, which just concluded its two-day Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) in Manila, slammed China’s disobedience to international laws regarding their claim in the area.
“We have reaffirmed our continuing concern over the destabilizing activities that are contrary to the Declaration of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as international law,” Philippines’ Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Evan Garcia said in a press conference.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary for Defense David Shear led the US delegation to the BSD held from Jan. 20 to 21 in Manila.
The Philippines’ representatives in the dialogue, on the other hand, were Evan and Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino.
The envoys described the status of the structure as “massive” and continuously “growing.”
China claims that it owns nearly 90 percent of the waters, including islands, shoals and reefs, basing on historical records and ancient maps.
“It is massive. Just look at the photographs. These are not small adjustments, these are huge activities that obviously designed to change the status quo” Garcia noted.
More than round-the-clock reclamation activities, China reportedly ameliorated its military and paramilitary presence in the contested waters, adding tension in the resource-abundant waters, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have existing overlapping claims.
“We have developed a clearer direction for the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board to prioritize high value exercises that would focus on maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Manila’s Defense Undersecretary Batino said.
Moreover, Russel stressed that US is modernizing its alliances, as US President Barack Obama mentioned in his Jan. 20 State of the Union Address (SOTU).
“The President emphasized a smarter kind of leadership that combines military power with strong diplomacy, leveraging that power with partners,” he said.
“He (Obama) said that we are upholding the principle that bigger nations cannot bully the small,” he added, insisting that the Philippines and US have come up with plans on how to improve the maritime security of the supposed “bullied” country.
Batino admitted that the current situation is “very serious.”
‘We are seriously concerned,” the undersecretary said.
“It has grown from what we have observed from the last time we had our strategic dialogue,” Batino said citing Manila’s previous statement that the reclamation is “50 percent complete.”
Despite several attempts to resolve the swelling tension through negotiations and the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea (DOC), China persisted on its incursion on Philippines’ islands, urging it to seek legal action through arbitration in 2013.
“The massive reclamation of China in the South China Sea is a clear violation of what we have agreed upon in the DOC and it is not helpful in terms of finding a way forward,” Garcia said.
“It is not an example of what anybody would understand as self restraint,” he added.
A non-binding code of conduct was signed by countries claiming parts of the South China Sea in 2002 in pursuit of easing the tension in the area,
The DOC edicts all claimants to exercise restraint and stop new occupation of territories in the South China Sea. Regardless of the supposed pact, the DOC does not have enough power to sanction states that will violate its provisions.
The dispute, according to Russel, is vital in the relationships of all 10 ASEAN countries, as well as the US, which has substantial relationships in some of the countries in the area.
“This is not an issue exclusively for the Philippines and the US but for all 10 ASEAN countries, to see the importance of finding rules-based, peaceful resolution,” Russel said.
US has been encouraging China to act in accordance to international law and in the spirit of constructive engagement, particularly with ASEAN and the Asia Pacific region.
“We have interest in stable, healthy constructive bilateral relationship with China. We have an interest between China and Chinese neighbors in the region including the Philippines but behavior that raises tensions… and behavior that would appear to be inconsistent with principles enumerated, will encounter those goals,” Russel stressed.
“It is a common sense tool. Now there are a range of diplomatic processes, bilateral, multilateral dialogue, including between China and the 10 ASEAN countries. This is an ongoing concern not only of claimants of ASEAN but all of Asia Pacific nations—and frankly all nations—who rely on freedom of navigation and sea lanes and principle of unimpeded commerce,” the delegate said. (With reports from Philstar.com, and GMANetwork.com)
(New York & New Jersey January 23-29, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)