China turns tables on PH over ‘moratorium’ on tensions

Paterno Esmaquel II
While it conducts reclamation activities, China slams the Philippines for planning to build an airport and upgrade its naval facilities in the South China Sea

DISPUTED ISLANDS. An aerial photo shows Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines on July 20, 2011. File photo by Rolex dela Peña/Pool/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – While the Philippines sought a “moratorium” on tensions in the disputed South China Sea, China said the Southeast Asian country has defeated its purpose by undertaking “provocative actions” in the disputed waters.

Look who’s planning to build an airport and upgrade their naval facilities, said the Asian giant that is conducting reclamation activities in the South China Sea.

“The Philippine side, on the one hand, intentionally takes provocative actions while, on the other hand, makes irresponsible remarks on China’s legitimate actions which are within China’s sovereignty. That is unjustifiable,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Monday, June 16.

Hua said this after Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, in a television interview, said the Philippines wants to propose a “moratorium” on “activities that escalate tension.” These include China’s reclamation activities in the disputed waters, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose explained that the moratorium is “not really a new proposal.” He said it falls under an existing landmark document – the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), which discourages activities that worsen tensions in the South China Sea. (READ: Philippines to press ‘gas pedal’ vs sea tensions’)

For these statements, Hua rebuffed the Philippines in a media briefing in Beijing.

RECLAMATION ACTIVITIES. The Philippines fears China is turning Mabini Reef into an island. This image dated Feb 25, 2014 shows ongoing reclamation activities. File photo courtesy of DFA

Turning the tables on the Philippines, Hua pointed out that in December 2013, the Philippines’ defense department “announced that they would invest large sums of money to upgrade the airstrips and naval facilities” on Pag-asa Island, known in China as the Zhongye Island.

Then, she said, in January this year, the Philippine military “again announced their plans to build a world-class airport on the so-called Kalayaan Island.”

‘Consensus between ASEAN, China’

“We call on the Philippine side to correct its erroneous actions, strictly follow the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and stop provocations that would further aggravate and complicate the situation,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said.

China, again, asserted its “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Hua said: “Since the 1970s, the Philippines has illegally and forcefully occupied parts of China’s Nansha (Spratly) Islands including the Zhongye Island, in violation of the UN Charter and principles of international law. We demand the Philippines to withdraw all its facilities and personnel on islands illegally seized from China.”

Despite rising concern among the region’s diplomats over the South China Sea, Hua also suggested that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has no problem with China’s actions in the disputed waters. (READ: PH weighs proposed ASEAN meet on South China Sea)

She said: “Issues on the sovereignty over islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands are not the ones between China and ASEAN. There is consensus between China and ASEAN on fully and effectively implementing the DOC and negotiating a code of conduct in the South China Sea under that framework. We stand ready to work with relevant countries, strictly follow the DOC and jointly safeguard peace and stability of the South China Sea.”

Taking off from the suggestion of a US diplomat, Del Rosario however is keen on tapping the international community “to step up and to say that we need to manage the tensions in the South China Sea before it gets out of hand.”

China, on the other hand, has rejected third-party involvement in South China Sea disputes, and has insisted on a one-on-one approach with the countries involved. – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.