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Philippines braces for China dispute fallout

Publication Date : 04-04-2014

 

The Philippines is bracing for a heavy fallout of retaliation from China after Manila filed last Sunday a case with the United Nations arbitration tribunal in The Hague, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The memorandum filed by the Department of Foreign Affairs sought UN arbitration of territorial claims made by Manila over eight shoals and reefs that China has allegedly occupied.

The submission of the case triggered an instant storm of protest from Beijing, which accused Manila of deliberately provoking trouble in the South China Sea by delivering supplies to a Philippine Marines outpost on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) last weekend, evading two Chinese Coast Guard ships trying to block a small Philippine boat carrying food, water and fresh troops to the outpost at the same time that it was seeking UN arbitration.

China appeared to have been particularly galled by the fact that its blockade was breached and the delivery allowed the Filipinos to maintain their outpost despite its superior forces in the disputed waters.

The breach of the blockade was a blow on the face of China. Its denunciation followed swiftly, ramping up the war of words between the two countries.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, said the Philippines, by carrying out the delivery of supplies with journalists on board the ship to record the scene at the same time that it was seeking arbitration, was deliberately trying to create tension.

“This shows that the reason the Philippines is pushing the international arbitration case is to conceal their plot to illegally occupy Chinese territory and create trouble in the South China Sea,” Hong told a news briefing. He said China would never allow the Philippines to claim Ayungin, which is called Ren’ai Reef by the Chinese. “The Philippine side will certainly face consequences for its provocative actions,” he warned without elaborating.

It appeared that China was particularly riled by the Philippine and international media’s coverage of the successful effort of the Philippines to resupply its outpost on a ship in Ayungin, and the inclusion of the shoal as part of its memorandum to the arbitration tribunal.

On Monday, President Aquino responded to China’s accusations of the Philippines’ supposed “provocations.” He said the Philippines was not seeking confrontation. “We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognise we have the right to defend our interests,” he told reporters.

In submitting its memorial, or memorandum, to the UN tribunal, the Philippines calmly argued its case. In a news conference, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said, “With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of the memorial is our national interest. It is about defending what is legitimately ours. It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations. It is about helping to preserve regional peace, security, and stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution [based] on international law.”

The memorial consisted of 10 volumes of nearly 4,000 pages including 40 maps. It identified in its statement of claims the reefs and shoals illegally occupied by China: Ayungin Shoal, Mischief Reef, Mckennan Reef, Subi Reef, Gaven Reef, Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef.

Reuters reports that China summoned the Philippine ambassador on Monday to lodge a strong protest over Manila’s act of seeking international arbitration. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the Philippine ambassador that Beijing was “extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the case Manila had filed, and reiterated that Beijing did not accept it and would not participate in it.

The United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines, said on Sunday that the right of any state to use dispute resolution mechanisms under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea should be respected. On Monday, the US State Department accused China’s Coast Guard of “harassment” of Philippine vessels and called its attempt to block a Philippine resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal a “provocative and destabilizing action.”

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the Philippines was permitted, under the Principles of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, to maintain previously established outposts without interference.

“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,” Harf told a press briefing,

These developments come ahead of a visit this month by US President Barack Obama to Asia, including the Philippines. Obama is expected to offer reassurances to regional allies in the face of China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims.

The Philippine memorial to the UN arbitration tribunal is the first submission by a claimant-nation to challenge China’s so-called “nine-dash line” claim encompassing nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of its neighbors. At the center of the dispute between the Philippines and China are the Spratly islands, a chain of up to 190 islands, reefs, outcrops and banks believed to be sitting on large deposits of oil and natural gas.


 

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