PH upholds freedom of navigation amid China warning
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines upheld freedom to navigate the South China Sea after China on Monday, October 7, blasted the United States, Japan, and Australia for “interfering” in maritime disputes.
“There's such a thing as freedom of navigation. A big percentage of world trade passes through our waters – waters that are a subject of dispute right now,” Philippine Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing.
Referring to the US, Japan, and Australia, Lacierda said: “Do they have an interest? Yes, they have an interest because of freedom of navigation.”
Lacierda issued this statement after China on Monday criticized the 3 countries.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “The alliance between the US, Japan, and Australia should not be used as an excuse to interfere in disputes over territorial sovereignty; otherwise, it will only complicate the situation and hurt the interests of relevant parties. We urge these countries to respect facts, tell right from wrong, be discreet, and refrain from any word or deed that is not conducive to the proper handling of relevant issues and to regional stability."
She added China upholds a “long-standing and clear-cut” position on South China Sea disputes.
This position includes rejecting third parties in settling maritime conflicts, such as the United Nations (UN) tribunal before which Manila filed an unprecedented case against Beijing.
For analysts, this also involves a view on sea freedom that diverges from other countries' interpretations.
'Respect' for sea freedom
Three days before China released its statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued a joint statement on regional and global issues, including the South China Sea disputes.
The 3 released this statement after the 5th ministers' meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meeting in Indonesia, and 5 days before the 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Brunei.
The diplomats said in their statement: “The ministers affirmed the importance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
"They called on claimants to refrain from actions that could increase tensions, to clarify and pursue claims in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and for ASEAN and China to agree on a meaningful Code of Conduct."
Opposing China, US views
The UNCLOS, the UN convention that governs maritime disputes, upholds freedom of navigation.
Under Article 58, the UNCLOS says a state has the right to navigate another state's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area 200 nautical miles from the state's baselines. The convention, however, maintains that a state has “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources” within its EEZ.
China and the US, among other countries, differ on this point, according to a primer prepared by the University of the Philippines' Asian Center and its Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
The authors say: “There are disagreements between them over navigational rights, with China asserting that military activities may not be undertaken in the exclusive economic zones of coastal states without their consent, while the US believes the EEZs are international waters in which all states’ rights to freedom of navigation and overflight are assured, subject only to the sovereign rights of coastal states to economically exploit the resources within their own EEZs.”
The Philippines and the US, strategic allies, have vowed to uphold freedom of navigation in the region.
"We share a common interest in maintaining freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, and transit of people and goods across the seas," said Philippine military chief General Emmanuel Bautista and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a statement last August 22. – Rappler.com