Singapore contradicts PH on West PH Sea 'support'

Singapore contradicts a Philippine government statement on the West Philippine Sea issue, saying it is not changing its stance on the territorial dispute

Rappler.com
Updated 11:06 PM, Sep 10, 2012

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore.Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore.

MANILA, Philippines - Singapore is not changing its stance on the issue of the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea territorial disputes, contradicting earlier announcements made by the Philippine government that the city-state is backing it up in the diplomatic row.

In a statement Monday, September 10, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated their country's consistent position of not taking sides on the issue.

"There has been no change to Singapore's position," the statement said.

"When PM Lee met President Aquino on 8 September 2012, he reiterated Singapore’s consistent position, namely that we do not take sides on the merits or otherwise of the various specific disputes in the South China Sea," it read.

"PM Lee called on all claimants to exercise restraint and for disputes to be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law," the MFA said.

"We had made this clear after the 8 September meeting," the statement added.

Lee met with President Benigno Aquino III on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok, Russia last Saturday.

The MFA statement was a response to several Philippine media reports on Sunday, particularly from the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Star, which reported that Singapore is now backing the Philippines on the issue.

'Free with the facts'

The ministry criticized the reports, saying Filipino media can be "very free with the facts."

"Unlike the Filipino media reports you refer to, we deal with facts not fiction," the Singapore MFA statement said.

Both reports quoted Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who said the President has expressed gratitude to Lee "for the very strong support that Singapore has given the Philippines in terms of its position in the West Philippine Sea."

Del Rosario made the statement to Philippine journalists accompanying Aquino in Vladivostok after a bilateral meeting between the two leaders.

They also quoted Del Rosario as saying that "Singapore has committed to continue its support in terms of a peaceful resolution of the disputes in accordance with international law including the UNCLOS (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."

Aquino himself also said that Singapore joined Malaysia and Vietnam in supporting the Philippines over the dispute.

"The leaders of Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam have extended their warm support to us regarding issues that have wide effect and implication in our region--particularly regarding the talks on the West Philippine Sea," Aquino said in his arrival statement Sunday, September 9.

Del Rosario said both Aquino and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdul Razak expressed the need to adopt a common position in ASEAN on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

Vietnam leaders, on the other hand, renewed their "deep friendship" and cooperation with the Philippines, saying they will help in addressing the challenges the two countries are both facing.

Both the Philippines and Vietnam accuse China of launching a campaign of intimidation to press its claims.

The Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have territorial claims over islands in the said sea.

Tensions between the Philippines and China, in particular, escalated in April when vessels from the two countries were caught in a stand-off at Scarborough Shoal.

Aquino was supposed to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Vladivostok, but the meeting was cancelled due to a "scheduling challenge."

'De-escalation'

Singapore, meanwhile, joined Australia in calling for a "de-escalation" in tensions in the area, warning that territorial disputes could disrupt decades of peace and economic progress in Asia.

In a meeting in the Australian capital Canberra, Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his Singaporean counterpart K. Shanmugam called for a peaceful and lawful resolution to rows over disputed islands.

Carr and Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith were set to meet with their Singaporean counterparts for talks on foreign affairs, defense and trade. "Both Australia and Singapore want to see a de-escalation in tensions," Carr told reporters after bilateral talks in Canberra.

"We want to see the economic gains that have represented a revolution in Asia, Southeast Asia, in particular in the last 40 years, continue undisrupted by a focus on strategic matters."

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Beijing that reaching a code of conduct over the sea was in "everyone's interest."

Clinton is hopeful China will agree to work out a code of conduct on the disputes and has encouraged Southeast Asian nations to stand united.

Shanmugam said Singapore had been briefed by Chinese officials on Beijing's position during a visit to China last week and had a "good understanding" of the Asian giant's perspective which it had shared with Australia.

Carr said Australian officials had found Singapore's briefing on the Chinese perspective "very useful" and said both Singapore and Australia "have a huge interest in peaceful resolution of these competing territorial claims."

"Half of our trade flows through the region being discussed," he said.

"We want the world to continue to be impressed by what free trade, market economics are producing in this part of the world. We don't want the world to be distracted by a story around territorial disputes."

Carr said Australia would "continue to talk to the parties and we'll emphasize that we take no side in the competing territorial claims, but we do urge a peaceful resolution...in accordance with international law." - Rappler.com, with reports from the Agence France-Presse

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