MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines protested yesterday China’s printing of a map of the disputed West Philippine Sea on newly issued Chinese e-passports.
“The Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash lines in the e-passport as such image covers an area that is clearly part of the Philippine territory and maritime domain,” the Philippines said in a note verbale Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario read before the media.
The map is called “nine-dash line” or “nine-dotted line” because it shows a series of nine dashes or dotted lines forming a ring around the West Philippine Sea area, which China claims to be part of its territory.
The area includes the Kalayaan group of islands, a cluster of oil-rich islands disputed by five other countries, including the Philippines.
China has been using the map with nine dashes in asserting its territorial claim over the whole of the West Philippine Sea. The map first made its way to the United Nations when China used it to challenge the claim made by Vietnam and Malaysia over their extended continental shelves.
“The Philippines demands that China respect the territory and maritime domain of the Philippines. The action of China is contrary to the spirit of the DOC (Declaration of Conduct) of Parties in the South China Sea particularly on the provision calling on parties to refrain from actions that complicate and escalate the dispute,” Del Rosario said.
The Philippines reiterated that the West Philippine Sea with the waters, islands, rocks, other maritime features and the continental shelf within the 200 nautical miles from the baselines form an integral part of Philippine territory and maritime jurisdiction.
The Philippines also lodged a diplomatic protest against China’s nine-dash line territorial claim over the whole of West Philippine Sea in April 2011.
Del Rosario said he was informed about China’s claims on new Chinese passports, but there was no opportunity to raise the matter with the Chinese side on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit held recently in Phnom Penh.
“It was mentioned to me briefly as I was leaving,” he said.
Vietnam also lodges protest
Vietnam had also written to China in protest against the new passports and asked it to “reverse their incorrect content,” said Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam’s foreign ministry.
“This action by China has violated Vietnam’s sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our sovereign rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or the East Sea,” he told a news conference.
Malaysia and Brunei are also claimants in the dispute.
China’s foreign ministry said in a faxed response to questions that the new passports met international standards.
“The passports’ maps with their outlines of China are not targeting a specific country. China is willing to actively communicate with the relevant countries and promote the healthy development of Sino-foreign personnel exchanges,” it said.
It was not clear when China began printing the new passports.
Meanwhile, Sen. Loren Legarda has echoed the call of President Aquino in seeking a united stand on the territorial problems with China among ASEAN members.
Legarda noted that this year’s ASEAN adopted the theme “Phnom Penh Declaration on ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny.”
The declaration underscored the commitment of ASEAN members to uphold the collective commitment reflected in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to move for a regional code of conduct.
“ASEAN needs to be consistent with its declaration,” said Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations.
“Clearly, UNCLOS was not considered in isolation of the proposed solutions under this declaration. I do note that the leaders have decided to seek early talks with China on a regional code of conduct,” she said.
Legarda said it would be interesting to find out if the member countries have at least agreed on an ASEAN position on its key elements and features before they initiate discussions with China.
“Maritime security and cooperation in ensuring freedom of navigation, in combating piracy, and in maintaining peace and stability in the region must be strengthened. ASEAN is in a unique and critical position to help preserve peace in the region by effectively shepherding the process of producing a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” Legarda said.
“We recognize that ASEAN unity is vital in addressing the challenges facing the region today, but certainly not at the expense of compromising our national interest,” she said.
“ASEAN unity and the promotion of each member’s national interest are complementary goals that cannot be pursued in isolation of the other,” she said.
Legarda said the President was right when he objected to the ASEAN chairman’s view that “a consensus on putting the discussions within an ASEAN-China framework had been reached.”
“I welcome President Aquino’s unfettered resolve to remind his fellow leaders to achieve unity in ASEAN’s stand and approach in handling disputes with China over conflicting claims to the strategically vital West Philippine Sea,” Legarda said.
“I support the President’s call for constructive dialogue and for a reaffirmation of respect for international law, particularly the (UNCLOS) in resolving the disputes,” she said. – With Christina Mendez, AP