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Tap Asean vs Chinese intrusion, Philippine gov’t urged

Publication Date : 16-04-2012


Senator Joker Arroyo on Sunday urged the Philippine administration to mobilise support of its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) allies against Chinese intrusion, saying US silence on the Scarborough Shoal standoff indicated lack of interest in the Philippine problem.

In an interview, Arroyo said it was high time the Philippines saw Asean, of which the country is a founding member, as the main battleground to resolve diplomatically conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Manila calls West Philippine Sea.

Arroyo was wary that the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal could go the way of Sabah, which was taken over by Malaysia although it formed part of the territory of the Sultanate of Sulu prior to the formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963.

"Once upon a time, we had a claim to Sabah [but] we lost it to Malaysia. With the situation now, after a couple of years, [Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal] might end up in the hands of China. So we must be very careful with this. Still, the question is, what should we do?” he said.

He noted Washington’s silence on the latest standoff between Manila and Beijing over Scarborough Shoal, where eight Chinese vessels were caught poaching in territorial waters of the Philippines last week.

"Americans will never move unless it’s their self-interest which is at stake,” said Arroyo, stressing that Washington was quick to denounce the North Korean rocket launch last week as a “provocative, belligerent act.”

"This is our misfortune,” he said. He pointed out that US annual aid to Philippines was a measly US$100 million, compared with $1.3 billion to Egypt following the Arab Spring in 2011.

'We’re like orphans'

"We should take this [latest standoff] seriously. In Asean, we should have a diplomatic offensive to persuade” Asean members to intervene aggressively, said the senator.

"The Philippines should tell the group, ‘We have a problem—we’re being bullied by China,’” said Arroyo, adding that Asean should unite to confront an “offending country” like China for its incursions into Philippine territorial waters.

The senator lamented that “not even a resolution of concern or of sympathy” had been issued by Asean. “We are left to fend for ourselves,” he said. “What happened to us? We’re like orphans…without allies. That’s our dilemma.”

Arroyo said that Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario meeting Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing to ease the tension came as no surprise amid the lack of “military or naval capability of the country to repeal the Chinese incursion.”

But when China maintained vessels in the disputed waters off Palawan while allowing the eight fishing vessels to escape, bringing with them the giant clams, sharks and corals, “we really have a problem.”

Plea: Stop intrusions

Raul Hernandez, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), on Sunday repeated Philippine calls on China to “stop all intrusions and respect our territorial sovereignty and sovereign rights.”

But he said that in spite of the incidents, the Philippines considered China as a “close neighbour and friend, as well as a solid partner.”

"We will continue our strategic and comprehensive engagement with China for the benefit of our peoples,” Hernandez told the Inquirer.

He brushed aside media reports of worsening ties with Beijing and said Manila was committed to resolving the Spratlys conflict peacefully.

On Friday, eight Chinese fishing boats and a surveillance ship involved in a standoff with the Philippines reportedly left the disputed Scarborough Shoal. But on Saturday, China sent back a surveillance vessel to the shoal and a Chinese aircraft flew over a Philippine Coast Guard vessel facing off a Chinese ship in the area.

A Chinese ship also harassed a Philippine-registered vessel conducting a scientific survey, the DFA said. The local ship reportedly had nine French nationals aboard doing archaeological surveys of the waters in the area.

The standoff began on April 8 with the interception of Chinese boats found illegally fishing at the shoal, which Manila claims within its exclusive economic zone. Beijing, however, insists Scarborough is part of its territory.

China claims all of the South China Sea, including waters up to the coasts of other countries in the region. Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the waters as their own.

China not helpful

The Department of National Defence (DND) said on Sunday the continued Chinese presence in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal was "not helping” to resolve the standoff since Wednesday.

Carefully choosing his words, DND spokesperson Peter Galvez stressed that the government wanted a “peaceful resolution” of the incident.

"We continuously call on them to also…not further the [standoff]. This will not be helpful in coming up with a peaceful resolution to the matter,” he said in a phone interview.

"We view it as actions that may not be helpful in the current situation since we already withdrew,” Galvez added, before correcting himself and saying the Navy warship BRP Gregorio Del Pilar “is still within the area.”

He said it was a “maritime law enforcement issue” that should be properly handled by the Philippine Coast Guard.

"Maybe they (Chinese authorities) should limit [their actions] already and just leave the area. We believe that they should also, that they [should] leave the area,” Galvez added.

When asked if there will be “countermeasures” in view of the Chinese ships’ continued presence, Galvez said: “No, because the guidance is [we are for a] peaceful resolution. We do not want to prolong this. We don’t wish it to escalate further.”


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