PH pushes sea row at Asia-Europe meeting

VIENTIANE, Laos – The Philippines on Monday, November 5, pushed its call for an international solution to overlapping claims in the South China Sea at an Asia-Europe summit, saying vital global shipping lanes were at stake.

President Benigno Aquino III raised the issue in bilateral meetings with leaders of the European Union as well as with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Laos.

"We noted the increasing importance of maritime security" in what Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, said Aquino's chief spokesman Herminio Coloma.

"There was agreement that it was a matter of international interest considering that a significant amount of world trade passes through that body of water," he told reporters in the Laotian capital Vientiane.

"Switzerland and the EU and to some extent Norway indicated their firm support to the Philippines in terms of our position that conflicts and disputes in that area are to be resolved peacefully and following international law."

Coloma said Aquino is also likely to raise the issue at a plenary session of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) later Monday and in bilateral discussions with the leaders of Japan and Italy.

More than 50 Asian and European leaders or their representatives are attending the ASEM summit, held every two years.

Any instability in the South China Sea, home to global commercial shipping lanes, will affect Europe because it would lead to higher insurance premiums for their ships, Coloma added.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters near the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines and Vietnam have accused Beijing of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking out its claims.

The Philippines has since April been engaged in a stand-off with China over a disputed shoal. Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims to parts of the sea.

Aquino has insisted in the past that solving the dispute needed a multilateral approach, but China has insisted on solving the problem bilaterally with individual countries involved. - Agence France-Presse