MANILA, Philippines – The only legitimate and viable way to resolve the territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) is a rules-based approach respecting international law, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
“The West Philippine Sea remains a focus of concern for the Philippines, for the region and for the international community and as we have maintained many times before, a rules-based approach is the only legitimate and viable way to address the issue,” the Department of Foreign Affairs chief told the Philippine Conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 26.
In the presence of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines does not want to isolate China or force the resolution of the dispute over Scarborough Shoal.
“Our core interest lies in being able to contribute to ensuring that the global security and economic system is based firmly on the rule of law,” he said, according to a DFA statement.
In this sense, the secretary explained that “we are firmly committed to helping build an international system that will be just and fair to all states, regardless of economic size or power.”
Political, diplomatic and legal tracks
Del Rosario said Manila is implementing a comprehensive foreign policy approach that involves action to be taken in 3 tracks:
- Political – Transform both disputed and non-disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This will pave the way for more cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in the medium-term.
- Diplomatic – Keep open all channels of discussions with China open, especially high-level contact like last month’s meeting between Del Rosario and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
- Legal – Continue to study and evaluate dispute settlement mechanisms under UNCLOS, the appropriate forum for this in accordance with international law.
Del Rosario admitted that the Philippines is at a “very challenging moment” in its relations with China, but the row over the West Philippine Sea “does not constitute the sum total of our relations” with Beijing.
“While we are working to strengthen other areas of the bilateral relations, we will not hesitate to speak out to protect our legitimate national interests.”
UNCLOS is an international treaty that sets limits on how much of neighbouring seas a nation can consider as their territorial waters or exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines and ASEAN have always invoked UNCLOS in discussions on how to resolve the dispute over Scarborough Shoal.
China is a signatory to the treaty, but experts say its claim of essentially all of the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes and believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits, would fail under its provisions. – Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse