Philippines to propose no action to raise tension in sea disputes

Reuters
Philippine Foreign Secretary Del Rosario delivers a statement during a news conference in Manila
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Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario delivers a statement during a news conference in Manila …

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines will propose a freeze on all activity that raises tension in disputed waters in the South China Sea as part of a three-part plan at a regional security meeting next month, Manila's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers will hold security talks with various counterparts including those from the United States, China and the European Union in Myanmar next month, with escalating sea disputes in Asia likely to be a main issue.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has rich fishery resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the sea, where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Relations between China and the Philippines have been tested recently by their dispute over part of the sea.

"We have this plan to submit a suggestion on a moratorium and that would be the immediate approach to the exacerbating problems in the South China Sea," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said after meeting Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief.

"It's constructive, it's positive and it's comprehensive. No one will quarrel with you on that right to get a moratorium on exacerbating situation there and ultimately to manage tension."

The United States, a close ally and former colonial power in the Philippines, has also called on all parties to halt all activity in the disputed sea to ease tension, and the Philippines supported that call.

But China responded by telling the United States to stay out of disputes and leave countries in the region to resolve problems themselves.

Del Rosario said the other two elements of his "triple-action plan" were the implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea and arbitration to settle disputes.

The Philippines has filed an arbitration complaint against China, seeking clarification on its right to exploit resources in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea.

Ashton, in Manila for a two-day visit to strengthen trade, aid and security relations, called on all parties to refrain from using force to resolve disputes. She also urged against unilateral attempts by any party to assert claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force.

Del Rosario accused China of violating an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea when it placed an oil rig in the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam in May. China removed the rig this month. He said China was also doing some reclamation work on at least three shoals in the Spratly Islands.

China says it has irrefutable sovereignty over the Spratlys, where most of the competing claims overlap, and it has demanded the immediate withdrawal of personnel and equipment of countries "illegally occupying" China's islands.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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