MANILA, Philippines - China is ready to “communicate” with other governments in connection with concerns over new passports bearing a map of China that includes disputed seas, officials said yesterday.
In a related development, China’s top diplomat in Manila welcomed yesterday the appointment of Erlinda Basilio as the new Philippine ambassador to Beijing.
Manila, however, is still waiting for clarification from Beijing on its reported plan to board ships that enter areas in disputed seas that China claims as part of its territory.
This week the Philippines stopped processing visas for holders of the new Chinese passport. Vietnam has also complained about the map in the passport, which Chinese officials described as a “technical problem.”
Chinese embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said their officials have announced that “we are ready to communicate with other governments to facilitate people-to-people exchanges.”
For her part, Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing said, “We hope there will be no over-interpretation of the issue.”
Ma also expressed hope that the appointment of Basilio, undersecretary for policy in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), would improve dialogue and cooperation between the two countries amid a maritime territorial feud.
“I think she’s very experienced. I think she gets the bigger picture,” Ma told The STAR, referring to Basilio. “We wish her good luck.”
Last Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he had instructed the Philippine embassy in Beijing to seek an “official clarification” and also sent a note verbale to the Chinese embassy about its recent announcement that police could board vessels in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“There’s still no response... We hope that the information is inaccurate because it’s a threat of significant magnitude to the international community in terms of putting at risk freedom of navigation and the legitimate commerce in those seas,” Del Rosario told reporters in an ambush interview after an awarding ceremony at the Palace.
Del Rosario said the Philippines was still in the process of determining its next course of action as President Aquino mentioned last week Manila might have to go to an international tribunal to settle the issue.
“We are studying the instructions of the President to see whether it’s possible... I think first of all it requires significant study and we’re studying it carefully as I said,” Del Rosario said.
“And we’re not prepared to discuss what we’re going to do moving forward,” Del Rosario said.
US Ambassador to China Gary Locke said in earlier reports that the sea rules, which China announced last week, were unclear as to their extent and purpose.
The DFA had said that if the reports were true, China’s plan was illegal as it would authorize its law enforcers to board, inspect, detain, confiscate, immobilize and expel, among other punitive actions, ships that would enter its claimed portions of the West Philippine Sea.
The DFA also said the reported policy would be in violation of international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“If media reports are accurate, the law deserves international condemnation by ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), our international partners and the entire community of nations,” the DFA said.
China, on the other hand, said it has the right to carry out maritime management according to law.