Top US diplomat backs ‘peaceful’ stance on West PH Sea

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Russel says the West Philippine Sea has no place for 'coercion and bullying'

COURT WILL DECIDE The Philippines will take China to international court over their territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Graphic by Mich Garcia

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Friday, June 21, said the support of a top US diplomat for a peaceful resolution over West Philippine Sea disputes is a boost for the country.

Current White House senior director for Asian affairs Danny Russel said during his Senate hearing confirmation that the West Philippine Sea has no place for “coercion and bullying.”

“I certainly will do everything in my power to try to lower the temperature, push claimants including China, into a diplomatic track and continue to warn them that the region in which China will flourish is a region of law, a region of order and a region of respect for neighbors, not one in which there is space for coercion and bullying,” he said.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte explained the Philippines had gone to proper venues such as the ASEAN and the United Nations to push for its claim through diplomatic means.

She said diplomacy is the right way to end conflict.

Russel expressed strong US support for efforts by ASEAN to negotiate as a bloc and frame a “code of conduct” to manage the disputes. For him, it was “unacceptable” for China to demand only bilateral negotiations with the other claimants.

This call was consistent with the Philippine’s actions, Valte said.

“Our position has always been that there needs to be no coercion when it comes to resolving  maritime disputes, and our approach has always been to adopt the rules-based scheme, which is very evident from the steps that we’ve taken in the several disputes…that we are currently involved in,” Valte said over drRB.

She added that Russel’s pronouncements were welcome as they were in line with the country’s efforts to attain peace and development in the region.

The management of the disputes for the West Philippine Sea is an issue to be taken up at regional security talks in Brunei later this month.

New appointments

Valte said there is no update yet on the case filed by the Philippines against China regarding the disputed territory except for Judge Chris Pinto’s resignation for being married to a Filipina.

Last April, International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) president Shunji Yanai appointed the remaining 3 members of the 5-member United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Arbitral Tribunal, including himself, to hear the statement of claim filed by the Philippines against China.

“I think the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) expects there will be movement…The next step, apart from the formation of the panel, would be that the panel will be deciding if it has jurisdiction over the action, and I think that is supposed to come sometime in July,” she said.

The top US diplomat

Russel is a nominee to become assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, replacing Kurt Campbell, who resigned in February to enter business.

His association with Asia began in his 20s when he studied martial arts for 3 years in Japan. He has a long experience in Japan and Korea.

He played a central role in the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to Asia.  

The diplomatic stance of the US on maritime issues irked Beijing when Washington said it has a national interest in the peaceful resolution of the West Philippine Sea disputes.

Six governments claim the tiny reefs and islands across the resource-rich waters of the West Philippine Sea. China claims it has sovereignty over virtually all of it.

Though not a claimant, US says it has a stake in the freedom of navigation in the sea’s busy lanes which are crucial to world trade.

Russel said the issue of China’s behavior on the seas had been raised by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with its leaders, and the Chinese “are in no doubt that America stands by our allies.”

Beijing has blamed the Philippines and Japan—both US treaty allies—for triggering maritime disputes involving China for the past couple of years. –

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