The situation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is critical to the national security interest of the United States, the White House has said.
“The President [Barack Obama] has often talked about how critically important the security situation is in the South China Sea. It’s critical to the national security of the United States,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was quoted as saying in a report by the Press Trust of India and carried by the Indian Express.
“It’s also critical to the global economy that the free flow of commerce in the South China Sea is something that needs to be maintained,” Earnest said, adding that the US is committed to working with other countries in the region to protect it.
“Because it is a priority, you can expect that the President has been briefed on the latest in this situation and will continue to be,” he replied in response to a question.
A State department official said the US is “carefully” monitoring China’s military developments.
“We continue to urge China to exhibit greater transparency with respect to its capabilities and to its intentions,” State department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.
“So in conjunction with that, we encourage China to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region,” he added.
Washington expressed appreciation for Taiwan’s call on claimants to exercise restraint, to refrain from unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and to respect international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea convention.
“With regard to the maritime claims and the claims to sovereignty over land features in the South China Sea, our position is that maritime claims must accord with the Law of the Sea. We have a strong interest in peace and security and in the manner in which claimants address their disputes,” Rathke said.
China’s extensive land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea have contributed to rising tensions, he reiterated and said “under international law it’s clear that land reclamation cannot change the maritime zones of a geographical feature. That would include a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone. So it’s only naturally formed land features that are entitled to maritime zones.”
PH on its own
Malacañang, meanwhile, said Manila is not solely relying on Washington to address its territorial dispute with China.
Its deputy spokesman, Abigail Valte, on Wednesday said the Philippines has always “stood by [its]own” in resolving the maritime dispute with China.
She added that Manila was able to file an arbitration case against China by considering “what is available to us, especially with regard to legal remedies.”
“It’s not really that we depend solely on one person or one country, but it’s a consideration of what we have,” Valte said.
She was reacting to a statement of Brad Glosserman, the executive director of the Pacific Forum for Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who said, “If you’re relying on America for help, you have a problem.”
”Well, obviously, that is the person’s opinion. However, as you can see in crafting our position when it comes to the dispute in the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea], the country, the administration does take into consideration several factors before we had arrived at a decision to file the memorial before the arbitral tribunal,” Valte said.
She added that the Philippines values not just the support of the US, but also of other countries in its territorial dispute with China.
Marcos: Try backchanneling
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has urged the government to explore backchannel diplomacy to defuse the tension between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea.
In a statement, Marcos said the government could tap Filipino businessmen to reach out to their counterparts in China and help in asking the Chinese government to stop its aggressive position on the disputed territories.
He added that backchanneling could persuade China to stop its massive reclamations and aggressive stance in the contested territories to give way for a dialogue to resolve the conflict.
In 2012, Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th was tapped to hold backchannel talks with China to resolve the territorial row over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
Marcos also suggested that Malacanang summon the Chinese ambassador to relay to Beijing the country’s desire for a diplomatic solution amid concern that aggressive activities from any party could spark confrontation in the area.
He said the Philippines will be at the losing end if it is caught in the crossfire in case of a confrontation between the US and China.