European Union backs Philippines on maritime dispute with China

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The European Union (EU) expressed support to the Philippines’ move to bring its maritime dispute with China before an international tribunal, saying the problem can best be resolved through peaceful means particularly by allowing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) to step into the case.

The EU earlier made known its support to the decision of the Philippine government to file a case against China before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) because of China’s repeated intrusions into Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The resource-rich West Philippine Sea is claimed in whole by China, and in part by the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

About $5 trillion worth of global trade passes the region annually, a major part of which belongs to the United States and EU member-states.

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Officials from the Philippines and the EU met for the 8th Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) in Brussels to discuss a wide range of bilateral, regional and multilateral issues including the Mindanao peace process, human rights, development assistance, aviation safety and economic progress.

Both sides welcomed the lifting of the significant safety concerns by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) but acknowledged the need for the Philippines to do more so that it can again have direct flights to EU countries.

Manila welcomed the EU’s intention to expand its engagement in Asia and expressed its support for the group to become a member of the East Asia Summit.

In a joint statement, both sides acknowledged the “positive developments” in their relations since the last SOM in December 2011. They reaffirmed their commitment “to reinforce bilateral cooperation on a broad range of issues.”

“Dialogue on the progress in bilateral relations was conducted with the view to enhancing mutually beneficial cooperation in such areas as trade and investment, development cooperation, human rights, air and maritime transport, the Mindanao Peace Process, the preservation of marine biodiversity, energy and disaster risk reduction and management,” the statement said.

Another “crucial milestone” for the progress of the Philippines, according to the statement, was the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro last year that will hopefully pave the way for a “final enduring peace” in Minda­nao (south of Manila).

“The EU welcomed continuation of these positive developments and reiterated its commitment to support the process both politically and through development assistance,” the statement said.

The two parties also reiterated their interest to the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law. They agreed to strengthen dialogue and cooperation, as well as welcomed the signing of the Financial Agreement of the European Union-Philippines Justice Support Program (EPJUST II).

The 9th Philippines-EU SOM will be held in the Philippines in 2015.

Bernice Camille V. Bauzon

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