Categorized | Code of Conduct, Law, Opinion, UNCLOS

US lawmakers: China should face Phl before UN – by Pia Lee-Brago | The Philippine Star

30 January 2013

by Pia Lee-Brago | The Philippine Star - MANILA, Philippines – Six visiting US congressmen, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce of California, yesterday expressed support for the decision of the Philippines to seek assistance from the United Nations arbitral tribunal to resolve disputes with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for American Affairs Carlos Sorreta said the US congressional delegation that also includes Eliot Engel (D-New York), Gregory Meeks (D-New York), Vern Buchanan (R-Florida), Matthew James Salmon (R-Arizona) and  Thomas Anthony Marino (R-Pennsylvania) pledged support for the legal action of Manila to resolve the maritime dispute.

“Yes,” Sorreta said when asked whether the US delegation supports the Philippines’ legal action. The question was asked during the meeting of the lawmakers with Secretary Albert del Rosario at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The American lawmakers arrived last Jan. 28 for a three-day visit.

“We conveyed  to them  our determination  to see this case  through and they have said that they support it,” Sorreta said.

He said the US congressmen  would  proceed  to  Beijing and were expected  to  raise  the  territorial  dispute with Chinese officials.

“I hope that they will discuss this. It is our hope that they will discuss  it with the Chinese when they go to Beijing,” Sorreta said.

The Philippines had earlier brought China before a United Nations tribunal to challenge its claim to most of the South China Sea.

Del Rosario said Manila had informed Beijing last Jan. 22 about the decision to take China to the UN  arbitral tribunal under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to attain a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute.

Assistant Secretary for Asia-Pacific Affairs Teresa Lazaro handed Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing a diplomatic note informing China that the Philippines had initiated arbitration proceedings on the sea dispute.

Ma maintained that the territorial row should be settled through direct negotiations and that China has sovereignty over the South China Sea and its adjacent waters.

According to Del Rosario, Beijing’s “nine-dash line” outlining its territorial claims over most of the sea, including waters and islands close to its neighbors, is illegal.

The Philippines also demands that China “desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 UNCLOS,” he added.

The country’s legal action is pursuant to President Aquino’s mandate to defend Philippine territory and maritime domain.

China’s territorial claims overlap those of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

“The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. On numerous occasions dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. To this day, a solution is still elusive. We hope the arbitral proceedings will bring this dispute to a durable solution,” Del Rosario said.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza is the country’s representative to the arbitral proceedings while the lead counsel is Paul Reichler of Foley and Hoag LLP.

The foreign secretary said the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the Philippines’ notification and statement of claim under the UNCLOS.

The Philippines is hopeful that the UN tribunal will declare China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea invalid and contrary to UNCLOS.

Chinese maritime vessels confronted Philippine Navy ships last year in a months-long standoff over Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off Zambales.

Rules-based

In his earlier meeting with Del Rosario and Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. on Capitol Hill, Royce had also reiterated his support for the Philippines’ rules-based approach to the territorial dispute and the peaceful resolution of issues within the framework of international law.

The US government had always expressed support for a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea disputes.

Royce met with Del Rosario at the DFA. The US congressman will also meet with President Aquino, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., other Philippine officials, and local business leaders.

“We welcome the visit of chairman Royce and the congressional delegation to the Philippines. Chairman Royce is committed to a strong alliance between the Philippines and the US, and he has been a great friend of the Filipino community in the US,” Del Rosario said.

Cuisia joined Philippine officials in meeting with the US congressional delegation.

He said the inclusion of the Philippines in the first foreign trip of Royce as chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee reflects the value he accords to Philippine-US friendship.

Royce also supports President Aquino’s efforts in fighting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and promoting human rights.

“It is best that China joins the process so that we can move forward under international law,” Royce told the Associated Press after meeting Del Rosario and other diplomats at the DFA.

“We want to calm the tensions,” Royce said. “We want this approached from the standpoint of diplomacy, and that is what we are conveying because in that way we don’t create crisis which roils the markets or creates uncertainty.”

Meanwhile, former President Joseph Estrada said President Aquino should always protect the territorial integrity of the Philippines as head of state.

Estrada said this is the reason why he supported the Aquino administration’s decision to file a case against China before the UN.

Aquino earlier admitted that he consulted Estrada and former President Fidel Ramos before deciding to file a case against China before the UN. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, AP

 (Original version is available at The Philippine Star)

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