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Centrist bloc backs Philippines in row with China

Publication Date : 24-03-2014


A bloc of more than 60 democracies around the world has backed the Philippines’ effort to settle its maritime dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) peacefully by submitting it to the United Nations for arbitration.

In a one-page resolution passed on March 19, the Brussels-based Centrist Democratic International (CDI) not only condemned in extraordinarily strong language “the forcible takeover and occupation of the Scarborough Islands (Panatag Shoal) in the (West Philippine Sea),” affirming that the territory is “possessed and occupied  by the Philippines as part of its continental shelf and within its exclusive economic zone,” but also urged China to “pursue  peaceful, lawful and internationally sanctioned rules on dispute resolution to remove rising tensions in the region.”

The CDI executive board unanimously approved the resolution at its annual meeting in Brussels after it was introduced by former Senator Edgardo Angara, a member of the CDI executive council.

Angara described the resolution as “a positive response from the democratic world.” He said “more than 60 countries in the world (mainly Western democracies in Europe) wanted China to pursue its territorial claims according to the rule and principles of international law.”

Explaining the diplomatic implications of the resolution for the arbitration case lodged by the Philippines in the United Nations in January last year, Angara pointed out that “the UN (arbitration) tribunal is composed of all these nations [ruled by Centrist Democratic parties], and all these nations will be on our side.”

Positive, constructive

“We’re always at the receiving end,” Angara said. “We react to what China [does] to us. For the first time, we have a positive, constructive international expression for our position.”

While the resolution echoes the Philippines’ position on its dispute with China over the Panatag Shoal, it went beyond decorous diplomatic language when it denounced China’s “unilateral, forcible and violent takeover” of the rich fishing ground in the West Philippine Sea.

The resolution called on other nations to register a similar objection, warning that history’s destructive wars began when democratic nations “stood silent in the face of unlawful occupations of other nations’ territories.”

It said “the world should remember the lessons of past occupations by condemning territorial encroachments wherever they occur.”

The resolution marked a rise in belligerent rhetorical exchanges between the Philippines and China since President Aquino, in an interview with The New York Times last month, called for global support for the Philippines in resisting Beijing’s assertive territorial claims in the South China Sea, drawing a parallel to Western democracies’ failure to support Czechoslovakia against Hitler’s demands for annexation of Czech lands in 1938, in a policy of appeasement that paved the way for the outbreak of World War II.

The Chinese foreign ministry rejected the Munich analogy, claiming that it was the Philippines that was occupying Chinese islands in the South China Sea. The Philippine government has vigorously rejected this interpretation of history.

Arbitration process

The rising animosity between Manila and Beijing comes as the UN arbitration tribunal prepares to open hearings on the Philippine petition at The Hague this month, seeking a judicial settlement of the dispute.

Even as the arbitration process is now under way, China refuses to submit to it and has kept paramilitary ships stationed in the disputed area, harassing Philippine fishing vessels.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario fueled the debate over the Philippines’ bid for UN arbitrage intervention in the dispute with China in a keynote speech on Friday at the 2014 summit of the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce on the theme “Asia’s Resurgence and America’s Role.”

Del Rosario said: “America has been a Pacific power for more than a century. In keeping with the adage that trade follows the flag, American business has also had long-term presence all over the Asia-Pacific region. … By extending its security to the Western Pacific by promoting freer trade and investment flows, and fostering the ideals of democracy and open societies, the US provided certainty and confidence for Asia’s continued advance. As conveyed by the US secretary of state, the US must continue building the regional and bilateral partnerships at the heart of a more stable, prosperous and democratic Asia so that the US  can continue to grow and prosper in the 21st century.

“Our decades-long economic progress always rested on a broad consensus that countries would resolve their differences peacefully and pragmatically in pursuit of shared interests. This old consensus is now crumbling.

“The source of this pressure is largely (the) actions being taken by China to assert what it believes to be its rightful interests more forcefully in the region … . The perception is that China’s economic and military powers have combined with rising nationalism. This resulted in setting China on a very different and difficult course with many of its neighbors, and with the US as well.

“If this perception is valid, this will no doubt cast a shadow on China’s self-proclaimed ‘Peaceful Rise’ and will lead to the question, ‘Is China’s progress going to be at the expense of others?’ The Philippines certainly hopes not, but Beijing’s increasingly assertive behavior must be a cause of concern for everyone.

“What is clear is that Beijing has embarked on a determined course to change the status quo all along its coastline, from the East China Sea down to the South China Sea. Analysts interpret China’s assertive actions as part of its expansionist strategy, as demonstrated, for example, by its nine-dash claim to support its position of indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea.”



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