G7 foreign ministers hit China reclamation

MANILA, Philippines – In a statement hailed by the Philippines, foreign ministers from the world's 7 most industrialized countries slammed China's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. 

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven, or G7, also called for a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. 

At the same time, they backed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a non-binding document signed in 2002 to counter provocative actions in the disputed waters. 

"We continue to observe the situation in the East and South China Seas and are concerned by any unilateral actions, such as large-scale land reclamation, which change the status quo and increase tensions," the G7 foreign ministers said in a statement Wednesday, April 15. 

They said: "We strongly oppose any attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion, or force. We call on all states to pursue the peaceful management or settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law, including through internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, and to fully implement any decisions rendered by the relevant courts and tribunals which are binding on them."

"We underline the importance of coastal states refraining from unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending final delimitation," the foreign ministers added. 

The declaration was signed by foreign ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the High Representative of the European Union.

Philippines welcomes declaration

In the 6-page statement that tackled various maritime security issues, the G7 foreign ministers referred to the reclamation activities conducted by China in the contested South China Sea. 

The Philippines claims parts of these waters as the West Philippine Sea. 

Manila is pursuing a case before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration to assert its ownership. Beijing has rejected the case, which means it is unlikely to heed the arbitral tribunal's ruling that is expected in 2016.

While the Philippines waits for this ruling, China has conducted reclamation activities in the South China Sea. The Philippines accuses China of building these artificial islands to change the status quo in the disputed waters, and to jeopardize the Philippines' case. (READ: China reclamation meant to 'define' 9-dash line – PH)

Urging countries to voice their concern about China's activities, the Philippines says China's artificial islands have destroyed around 300 acres of coral reefs.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday evening, April 16, welcomed the G7 foreign ministers' declaration on China's activities.

The DFA said it "underlines the international community’s commitment to uphold the principles of international law, in particular the 1982 United Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which underpin the stable maritime code that serves our common interests."

"The Philippines reiterates its call for a stop to unilateral actions that violate the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and international law. Such actions undermine efforts to pursue the peaceful, rules-based resolution of the disputes in the South China Sea and to promote regional stability," the DFA said. – Rappler.com 

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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