The Philippine government welcomed the resolution unanimously passed by the United States Senate which called for the “peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes” in the East and South China Seas, Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. said on Friday (Manila time).
In a statement, Cuisia expressed the government’s gratitude to Chairman Robert Menendez of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his leadership in passing the resolution.
“While the US has no direct stake in the dispute, it is important for the US that freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, and the observance of international laws are guaranteed,” the envoy said.
On Wednesday, the US Senate passed Resolution 167, which called for the peaceful resolution of the maritime disputes in the resource-rich region and urged claimant-countries to finalize a binding Code of Conduct (COC) that is seen to stabilize the current tensions.
The West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is claimed in whole by China on the basis of its nine-dash line while parts of it are being claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
A COC will require an agreement from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Consultations will be conducted in Beijing in September, which marked the first time China will talk with Asean as a bloc.
Asean groups together the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei Darussalam.
“Through the resolution, the United States Senate has demonstrated its leadership by strongly advocating for the resolution of the dispute without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and without the use of force,” Cuisia said.
“We also welcome the US Senate’s support for the Philippines’ action to seek arbitration, consistent with our commitment to settle the disputes in a peaceful manner,” he added.
The US maintained a “strategic interest” in seeing a stable West Philippine Sea, which is a commercially vital sea lane used by more than $5 trillion worth of global trade annually.
The US’ interest in the region was mostly boosted by US President Barack Obama’s repivot to Asia, significantly increasing the rotational presence of its military in Singapore, the Philippines and Australia, among others.
It has also reconnected with its historical allies in the Asia Pacific region, particularly Manila and Tokyo. The Philippines, so far, acquired two Hamilton-class cutters from the US Coast Guard and recommissioned it to the US Navy.
This was done under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, whose provisions required Washington to aid Manila in its military modernization.
Territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea has been long-standing, but tensions rose last year when Chinese ships intruded into the Philippines-claimed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. Beijing’s aggressive stance in the resource-rich region was boosted by its massive economic growth in the past decade.
The two-month naval standoff at the Panatag Shoal last year triggered diplomatic spats between Manila and Beijing, with the Philippines eventually bringing the dispute before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) earlier this year.
And although China rejected to join the arbitration procedures, the Philippines maintained the case can proceed without Beijing’s participation. The five-member arbitral tribunal has recently convened, delegated The Hague as the seat of the arbitration and is subject to come up with its decision regarding their jurisdiction on the case.
Bernice Camille V. Bauzon