The “provocative” and “unilateral” actions of China in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) are an infringement of the rights of the Philippines and other countries under a United Nations convention, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.
During high-level meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Asean Plus Three, East Asia Summit and Asean Regional Forum in Yangon, Myanmar, the Philippines renewed its call for a peaceful, rules-based resolution of disputes in the resource-rich sea.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan Garcia, the head of the Philippine delegation to the meetings, said China’s recent actions in the South China Sea, which included the alleged bullying of Filipino fishermen, are in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and of the 2002 Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC).
Asean is composed of the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia and Brunei Darussalam.
The DOC is a non-binding edict signed by the Asean countries and China to reduce tensions in the region, as well as prevent claimant-countries from acting aggressively on their claims in contested waters.
It also provides for a mechanism to come up with a more binding Code of Conduct (COC).
Garcia said China’s unilateral actions “raise the level of tensions to a new high and undermine the spirit of good neighborly ties and mutual confidence necessary for the region to move forward and decisively to implement the DOC fully and effectively.”
During the Yangon meetings, he highlighted the need for Asean and China to conclude a “substantive and legally-binding” COC.
Garcia said from the very beginning, the Philippines has invited China to take part in the peaceful, rules-based process “to clarify the extent of its maritime claims before the international community.”
China refused to participate in the proceedings.
Malacañang also on Monday said the government will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the dispute in the West Philippine Sea amid China’s reported plan to build a military base on an artificial island at the Fiery Cross Reef, known in the Philippines as Kagitingan Reef.
Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda reiterated that relations between the Philippines and China are not hinge solely on their territorial dispute.
“We will continue to resort to the diplomatic track and that particular track has been gaining approval from the international community. Certainly, we do not want to escalate any tensions in the South China Sea. That is not what we are there for,” Lacierda said.
The Palace official also stressed the role of Asean as the Philippines’ immediate community in settling the dispute by completing a proposed code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Lacierda believes that with the backing of the international community, Manila can persuade Beijing to act as a responsible member of the international community.
China on Monday expressed displeasure after Vietnamese and Filipino troops played sports together on a contested island, with the foreign ministry denouncing the activity as “a farce.”
The retort from Beijing came one day after Vietnam hosted Filipino troops on an island it
controls in the disputed Spratlys archipelago that the Philippines’ navy said was designed to “foster camaraderie.”
Asked about the joint sports activity, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Monday at a regular briefing: “Don’t you think that these small tricks conducted by the Philippines and Vietnam are nothing but a farce?”
She also urged Hanoi and Manila to “refrain from taking any actions that may complicate or magnify the dispute” and said that China “exercises indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters,” referring to the Spratlys by their Chinese name.
The first-ever joint games between the Philippine and Vietnamese navies saw them play football and volleyball and were designed to “foster camaraderie” among the troops, Philippine Navy spokesperson Lt. Commander Gregory Fabic said.