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China works with Philippines, U.S. to solve South China Sea disputes

2012-07-19
By Jean Magdaraog Cordero
National maritime claims in the South China Sea are a tangle of overlapping boundaries. China’s claim cuts across the broadest and deepest swath of water. [Source: David Rosenberg www.southchinasea.org]

National maritime claims in the South China Sea are a tangle of overlapping boundaries. China’s claim cuts across the broadest and deepest swath of water. [Source: David Rosenberg www.southchinasea.org]

China is taking steps to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, including meeting with United States officials in Cambodia for discussions and offering positive remarks to the Philippines as that country celebrated its anniversary last month.

The July 12, 2012, Cambodia talks, featuring Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, focused on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Some of their discussion covered a proposal by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] for a Code of Conduct to diffuse such disputes.

After the Cambodia meeting, U.S. officials said Yang indicated China would be willing to have a role in discussions in the future.

Clinton stressed both countries must cooperate with ASEAN members.

“It is an important signal that the United States and China not only can, but will work together in Asia,” Clinton said.

Last month, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III stressed the importance of working together in amity and peace to resolve issues in the region.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, front, and his cabinet members salute as the national flag is raised in observance of the country's 114th Independence Day at Barasoain church in Malolos town, Bulacan province, north of Manila, on June 12, 2012. [Reuters]

Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, front, and his cabinet members salute as the national flag is raised in observance of the country's 114th Independence Day at Barasoain church in Malolos town, Bulacan province, north of Manila, on June 12, 2012. [Reuters]

Speaking before the diplomatic corps at a social reception on the occasion of the 114th Philippine independence in Malacanang Palace, Aquino said that as a nation, “we also desire peace and prosperity for our region and for the rest of the world -- the foundation of progress for all.”

“As we work to bring inclusive prosperity to our people, we are cognizant of this fundamental truth: in an increasingly globalized world, our national destinies are intertwined,” he said.

“It requires cooperation, where we solve problems together, and build a dynamic milieu together,” he said. Without mentioning a specific country, Aquino said prosperity cannot come in isolation.

China official joins call for goodwill

Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing who was present for the speech praised Aquino’s statement and said both sides should act in the spirit of mutual respect and goodwill.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have escalated in April following a standoff in the Scarborough Reef where Chinese ships blocked Philippine vessels sent to arrest Chinese fishermen in the lagoon. The Philippines claimed the reef is within its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf as provided under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS].

Meanwhile, China claimed the reef, which is not part of the disputed Spratlys, and nearly all of South China Sea as part of its territory based on history.

On June 5, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs announced that China moved out two government ships and that the Philippine fisheries bureau vessel did the same from the reef’s lagoon.

Without elaborating, the department said the two sides “have continued consultations to address the remaining issues.”

In his speech, Aquino said that just as his administration has pledged a policy of constructive, responsible, engagement with the world, “so too, do we ask all nations, to work with us, to achieve the fullest potential of all our peoples.”

“In a world where the challenges of today may compel nations to look inwards, let us resolve to work together in amity and in peace,” he said.

On the day after the Philippines celebrated its anniversary, the nation on June 13 marked the 37th anniversary of the establishment of Philippines-China diplomatic relations. Specifically addressing China, Aquino said the two countries should have mutual respect of their sovereignty under international law if they are to solve its territorial dispute.

The president noted that both countries are exerting efforts to resolve the situation peacefully through diplomatic means. Aquino, however, noted that he has taken an oath to defend the Constitution and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines.

“The extent of our territory and maritime zones are clearly defined by Philippine laws and international law, specifically the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said.

“As a member of the international community, we owe each other mutual respect of our respective sovereignty under international law,” Aquino added.

The president said the Philippines and China have gained momentum in resolving the dispute through the de-escalation of the tension at the Scarborough Reef.

“We must maintain this momentum. After all, our countries both recognize that peace and stability in the region will rebound to benefit not only to us but also to the rest of world. Consequently, tensions within affect the entire global community,” he said.

Ambassador Keqing said the issue is merely a small part of the overall relations of the two countries.

“Well said as it is that there is no perfect friendship, we should face up to the existing dispute in the South China Sea with sincerity and rationality,” Ma said.

She said China is committed to resolving the dispute but she noted that both sides should act in the spirit of mutual respect and goodwill.

She further noted that China will adhere to the principle of diplomatic dialogue and both sides have to meet halfway to have long-term solution.

The envoy read a congratulatory message from Chinese President Hu Jintao who greeted Aquino for the 114th Philippine Independence Day and the 37th anniversary of Philippine-China diplomatic relations.

In his speech, Aquino cited the bilateral trade between the two countries as among the many partnerships between the two countries.

The president noted that in 2011, almost 1 million Filipinos visited China and more than 200,000 Chinese visited the Philippines.

The same year, the nation benefited from more than $12 billion in bilateral trade and $477 million [PhP20 billion] in foreign direct investments from China. Of the bilateral trade, Philippine investments valued at $3 billion were poured into China.

“At the end of the day, we see a historic and mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries,” he said.

“So what we must do right now is to continue strengthening cooperation in the several areas that are proven to be mutually beneficial. And to continue working tirelessly to find the peaceful, diplomatic solution in the area in which we disagree,” Aquino said.

 

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