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US not a party to sea code – envoy

MANILA, Philippines - The United States is not a party to the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will adopt, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said yesterday.

But he said the US can be considered an interested party to the COC because of Washington’s interest in freedom of navigation in the region’s air and sea lanes.

“We are not a party to the COC and so it is up to the ASEAN countries along with China to resolve the issues involved. We are not a party to that particular process but we are an interested party because our interests are in freedom of navigation in the air and in the sea,” Goldberg told reporters after leading the opening of “America in 3D” roadshow presentation at the SM Mall of Asia.

Goldberg said the US is interested in the COC with China under a “rules-based solution,” without resorting to use of force.

“And so we very much hope that those kinds of rules-based solutions will be the ones that come to the fore so that we are able to see again those kinds of legal solutions, rules-based solutions,” he said.

Goldberg said the US wants to see legal and peaceful diplomatic solution to any issue related to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

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“So what we have been urging and the reason that we support the Philippines in its effort to bring certain matters before an international tribunal under international law is because we believe very much, very strongly, in a legal process to help determine and resolve dispute,” Goldberg said.

“So we are concerned naturally by anything that is not in that arena,” he said.

COC long overdue

The US has spoken out strongly on China’s unilateral measures. Washington does not recognize the actions undertaken by China such as the establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and the fishing law that it tried to put into effect.

“There are things not done in coordination with other countries of the region and that is why we believe that a Code of Conduct is an important part of way forward so the countries can discuss and resolve disputes,” Goldberg said.

Washington called for an “accelerated” negotiation process for a COC, saying the agreement is long overdue.

The US supports efforts, including those of the Philippines, to resolve disputes and overlapping claims through diplomacy and recognize international legal processes.

Malaysia also supported the Philippines on the peaceful settlement of the dispute through ASEAN solidarity.

Manila is pushing for the COC in the South China Sea to be approved and pushed by ASEAN as a group – meaning to include even non-claimants – for the sake of freedom of navigation, regional peace and stability.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the Philippines’ case would be stronger if neighboring countries like Malaysia and Vietnam would join Manila in disputing China’s nine-dash line claiming the whole of the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

Firmly opposed

The Philippines protested on Tuesday the firing of water cannons at Filipino fishermen at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc, last week and nine harassment incidents committed by Chinese authorities.

China rejected the Philippine protest, saying it has indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.

The Philippines formally invited China in April 2012 to bring their claim to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for a legal and lasting solution to the territorial dispute.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said the Philippines is working with full resolve to submit the memorial for the arbitration case on March 30.

China, however, declared its position against resolving the issues before an international tribunal.

“With reference to the Philippines’ attempt of initiating arbitration proceeding against China regarding South China Sea dispute, China is firmly opposed to and will by no means accept that. This clear-cut position will not change,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said on Friday. – With Aurea Calica

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