MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines presented evidence to an international tribunal against China's sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, ignoring Beijing's warning that the case will damage ties.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference Sunday that the documents submitted electronically to the tribunal in The Hague consist of nearly 4,000 pages of analysis and documentary evidence.
Filipino officials took their territorial disputes with China to international arbitration in January 2013, after Chinese government ships took control of a disputed shoal off the northwestern Philippines. They asked the tribunal to declare China's claims to about 80 percent of the strategic waters and Beijing's seizure of eight South China Sea shoals and reefs illegal.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that China will never accept nor participate in the international arbitration pushed by the Philippines. He called on the Philippines "to stop going any further down the wrong track so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations."
In Washington, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf backed the Philippines' action, saying "all countries should respect the right of any states party, including the Republic of the Philippines, to avail themselves of the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for under the Law of the Sea Convention."
"We hope that this case serves to provide greater legal certainty and compliance with the international law of the sea," she said in a statement. She reiterated a longstanding U.S. position that all parties refrain from taking unilateral actions that are "escalatory and destabilizing, to clarify their respective maritime and territorial claims in accordance with international law, and to commit to the peaceful management and resolution of disputes."
The Philippines has urged other claimants to join the case, but none have so far publicly stepped forward.
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims across the busy South China Sea.
China has asked other claimants to settle the disputes through one-on-one negotiations, something that would give it advantage because of its sheer size and clout. It has also warned Washington not to get involved.
"With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of the memorial is our national interest," del Rosario said. "It is about defending what is legitimately ours."
The disputes have periodically erupted into dangerous confrontations, sparking tensions and straining ties.
In the latest incident, a Philippine government ship slipped past a Chinese coast guard blockade Saturday and brought food and fresh troops to a navy ship marooned on Second Thomas Shoal. The ship is used as a base by Filipino troops to bolster the country's territorial claims in the area.
The mission was accomplished peacefully despite a radioed warning by the Chinese to the Filipinos to stop or "take full responsibility for the consequences of your action."
On March 9, Chinese vessels blocked a resupply mission to the shoal, called Ayungin by the Philippines.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the Philippines last month amended its statement of claim to include Ayungin Shoal as subject of arbitration. He said that the shoal is within the Philippines' 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, and that the country has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over it.