China intentions perplexing – Noy

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Beijing’s intentions in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea are perplexing, but would not distract the Philippines from its resolve to defend its territory through peaceful means, President Aquino said in an interview with The New York Times last Tuesday.

In the interview, Aquino also said he would like the international community to help uphold the rule of law in maritime disputes between China and some countries in the region, including the Philippines and Japan.

“One is perplexed at what China’s intentions are. I don’t think that there is any expert that can come up with conclusions that are beyond refute. But having said all of that, again, our concept is very, very simple. You may have the might, but that doesn’t necessarily make you right,” Aquino said.

“At the end of the day, perhaps that it’s high time that the declaration of conduct of the sea really transforms into a binding document called the code of conduct,” Aquino said.

He said a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea would “get the ground rules, the environment clearly set out” and enable nations concerned to focus on “improving the lot of our respective peoples.”

Aquino’s New York Times interview came amid rising tension in the region triggered by China’s growing aggressiveness in staking its territorial claims.

“And if we, in turn, do not protect our rights, then we cannot expect anybody else to protect our rights,” he said.

Aside from pushing for the code of conduct, Aquino said the Philippines has sought international arbitration to get an affirmation of its exclusive economic zone that China was trying to undo with its declaration of a nine-dash line to claim the whole of the West Philippine Sea.

He said the only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is for each country – especially China – to strictly follow the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international laws.

“I guess all of the countries involved in disputes keep saying that we will adhere to international law... and this (UNCLOS) was a very difficult agreement to come up with. But basically, everybody’s rights, duties and obligations were spelled out in the document. One would presume that every signatory to the same would adhere religiously to the provisions,” Aquino said.

It is under UNCLOS that signatory nations are allowed 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

He said China’s imposition of fishing rules covering almost the entire West Philippine Sea as well as its setting up of an air defense identification zone over areas disputed with Japan have only exacerbated the situation.

“Any tension detracts from the fundamental mission of any government to improve the lot of its people,” the President said.

He also cited Beijing’s taking over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is only 120 nautical miles off Zambales but is more than 340 miles away from China’s closest land mass.

Earlier, Chinese media ganged up on Aquino after he compared China’s actions with Nazi Germany’s annexation of Sudetenland while the West looked on.

“The world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II and that didn’t happen,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that with The New York Times interview, the world has become more aware of the Philippines’ firm adherence to international law in settling a potentially explosive maritime tiff with Beijing.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China adheres to international law and its actions in the South China Sea should not be compared to Nazi Germany’s actions that led to World War II.

“As an unwavering upholder of international justice, China made huge sacrifice and indelible historical contribution to the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War. It is inconceivable and unreasonable to place China-Philippines South China Sea disputes in the same category with WWII history,” Hong said in a press conference.

“China is strongly dissatisfied with the relevant remark. We hope that the Philippine side will correct its mistake,” Hong said.

But Lacierda said over dzRB yesterday that Aquino was only using the Sudetenland case as an analogy to illustrate a possible scenario. He reiterated his call for China to submit to international arbitration in justifying its claim over some territories belonging to the Philippines.

“We ask the world to support us in this endeavor and we ask China to join us in this arbitration proceeding,” Lacierda said. – With Pia Lee-Brago


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