MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III said China’s plan to board and expel ships “illegally entering” disputed waters violates freedom of navigation.
Aquino said he ordered Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to ask for details about the report and prepare “appropriate responses.”
The President said, “It seems it will be very hard to implement that because there is a particular provision in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea about Freedom of Navigation.”
“Publicly, China said several times that it will not hinder freedom of navigation. Now, we can see on the surface that this (plan) seems to be contrary to their off stated public statements,” Aquino said in Filipino during an interview in Cebu on Friday, November 30.
Chinese state media reported that the Chinese province of Hainan passed regulations allowing police to board and seize control of foreign ships “illegally entering” the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea.)
The China Daily report said illegal activities include entering Hainan’s waters without permission, damaging coastal defense facilities, and engaging in publicity that “threatens national security.”
Aquino said he read the reports but wants to find out the details to determine what action to take.
“If we prove that there was indeed that order, it’s not just a proposal, we will lodge a diplomatic note or a formal protest and it also tells us where to go to in terms of advancing our interest.”
Aquino said China’s move may even be grounds for the Philippines to elevate the territorial dispute to international bodies.
“We might accelerate and bring it before the appropriate international tribunal to finally settle the matter or at least start the process of settling it legally and concretely.”
ASEAN, US express concern
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan also told Reuters the plan was “a very serious turn of events.”
“My reaction is [this is] certainly an escalation of the tension that has already been building,” Pitsuwan said.
“The problem is that you can stake the claim, you can initiate measures and policies but there is that potential of misunderstanding, miscalculation that could lead to major tension and major incidents,” he added.
The US State Department is also looking into the report. Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “We are going to be asking some questions of the Chinese government about this, frankly to get a better understanding of what they intend.”
The report was released as the Philippines and Vietnam protested China’s issuance of passports containing a map with its claim on almost the whole of the South China Sea.
This week, the Philippines announced it is not stamping the new passports but will instead stamp visas on a separate form. Vietnam has taken a similar move.
New ambassador is a ‘she’
In the interview, Aquino also revealed that the new Ambassador to China is female.
He said he will talk to the candidate on Monday to finalize the appointment process.
“We will have final discussions on the matter and then on the process to nominate, to face the Commission on Appointments for approval before taking office. With a little luck, hopefully by February, she will be in Beijing,” he said.
Aquino is selecting a new envoy to replace Sonia Brady, who suffered a stroke in August. Del Rosario has said that the appointment will be made on Monday.
Del Rosario explained in past interviews that the appointment was delayed because it took time for him to tell Brady that she would need to be replaced.
The Secretary said Brady is recovering and is undergoing speech therapy.
‘We made our position clear’
Amid China’s actions, Aquino said he already made the Philippine position clear during the East Asia Summit in Cambodia earlier this month.
“My last intervention was in the EAS dialogue, basically, it dealt with that, and easing all the tensions and what would be necessary for all sides to demonstrate good will, and if that is the response … and it is proven, of course, we will act accordingly. If there’s no basis, then we will not add to the tension,” Aquino said.
During the summit, Aquino disputed the claim of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that the ASEAN reached a consensus not to internationalize the dispute.
He said the prime minister should not have promoted the alleged consensus.
ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have claims to parts of the sea, home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels, but China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea. – Rappler.com