China foreign minister invited to Manila
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - July 5, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - After the reported “testy exchanges” during a foreign ministers’ meeting amid tensions over the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario invited Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to visit the country.

“I invited the foreign minister to come and visit Manila so we can have a full and constructive discussion on all issues,” Del Rosario said yesterday.

“I indicated to him that perhaps it is timely for him to do this because I have been to Beijing three times since I became foreign minister and all throughout that time we have had no visit from a Chinese foreign minister,” he said.

He said Wang told him he “will consider” the invitation.

Del Rosario confirmed reports that he rebutted Wang after hearing him reel off a list of complaints against Manila in his speech at the 46th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brunei on Sunday.

Reports quoted the Singapore foreign minister as saying that those were “testy exchanges.”

“I will not deny what has been reported but I feel there is no need to add to it,” Del Rosario said in a chance interview.

He said three meetings with China and ASEAN over the sea dispute are underway.

He said China agreed to a September meeting for official consultations with ASEAN on how to have a full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

The discussions, to be held in China, were described as “consultations” rather than “negotiations.”

China also called for a meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers in August also in China, Del Rosario said.

Before this, another meeting between ASEAN and China set by Thailand will take place.

ASEAN and China signed the DOC in 2002, outlining the most important principles in the management of disputes on the South China Sea. They achieved a consensus recently to push for consultations to develop a more detailed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, warned on Saturday that a “counterstrike” against Manila was inevitable if it continues to provoke Beijing in the West Philippine Sea.

In a commentary, the People’s Daily said the Philippines had committed “seven sins,” including “illegal occupation” of the Spratly Islands, inviting foreign capital to engage in oil and gas development in the disputed waters and promoting the “internationalization” of the waters.

Del Rosario called China’s statement on a counterstrike “irresponsible,” saying the Philippines strongly condemns any threat of use of force.

He said the persistence of destabilizing actions in the West Philippine Sea continues to pose serious challenges for the whole region and a violation of the DOC.

Step forward

Malacañang welcomed China’s willingness to host discussions on the possible crafting of a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea with ASEAN amid continuing tensions in the area, saying it is a “step forward.”

“This is a step in the right direction,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said at a press briefing.

Lacierda said he could not speculate on China’s intention to spearhead low-level discussions to resolve the dispute.

“We already drafted the code of conduct and now we have asked them to discuss it with us, and China has already said that they are discussing with us,” he said.

Lacierda said the Philippines has always been for a rules-based approach to settle territorial disputes and had precisely gone to the United Nations for arbitration.

He said it was the right process while the government tries to find ways to help local fishermen affected by the presence of Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal, such as providing alternative fishing grounds.

“We have used the approach that is acceptable to the community of nations. We have tried not to exacerbate the situation,” he said. “What we are doing is defending what is rightfully ours.”

Assault craft

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources said China is deploying at least four naval assault hovercrafts in the West Philippine Sea as part of its medium- and long-range naval plan in a bid to wrest total control of the islets and reefs.

Each ship assault craft has a lift capability of four amphibious landing tanks and a battalion of Chinese marines, sources said.

Unlike its navy’s frigates, destroyers and maritime surveillance vessels that can only operate in deep waters, China’s hovercrafts can mount simultaneous beachhead landings in shallow waters to unload the marines and tanks.

The hovercrafts will reportedly be placed under the operational control of the Guangzhou Military Region.

“If they will use the hover assault craft, they will not only be violating the code of conduct in the South China Sea but will also directly engage in the massive destruction of coral reefs in the region,” a source warned.

The source said the hover assault craft program has long been conceived by Beijing’s military planners and is being implemented without taking into consideration its impact on the environment. –  With Jaime Laude, Aurea Calica


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