Ayungin supply drops to continue

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines will continue to send supplies to its troops on Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal despite fresh warnings from China, which has set up a naval blockade in the area.

A security official said the Philippines has the right to support its military forces on the shoal as the area is well within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“We reiterate that (Ayungin Shoal) is within our EEZ. It is but our duty to provide for our own troops. These are Filipino settlements,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of lack of authority to talk on the matter.

The official said the Philippines has been abiding by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which seeks to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully.

China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the declaration in 2002 but specific and binding guidelines have yet to be approved.

On Monday, China demanded the Philippines pull out its troops from Ayungin Shoal, calling its occupation of the area illegal.

“The Chinese government’s attitude on maintaining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We will never tolerate the Philippines’ illegal occupation of Ren’ai reef (Ayungin Shoal),” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a press conference in Beijing.

“China is on high alert for the Philippines taking more proactive acts in the South China Sea. The Philippines must accept responsibility for the consequences of what will happen,” Lei added.


Palace shrugs off warning

Malacañang dismissed China’s warning on provocations in the West Philippine Sea, saying Ayungin Shoal is part of a continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

 Beijing made the warning after Chinese coast guards drove away two Filipino civilian vessels carrying supplies for BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin shoal.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. reiterated the pronouncement of the Department of Foreign Affairs the BRP Sierra Madre was deployed in 1999 as a permanent government installation in response to China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995.

This was prior to the signing of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.

“That is the clear position of our government. All our actions are in accordance with international law and our policy to pursue only peaceful and diplomatic means to resolve disputes on territorial claims,” Coloma said.

The DFA filed a diplomatic protest for the expulsion of the two Filipino vessels on March 9, which it claimed were hired by the Philippine Navy to conduct troop rotation and supply operations for the small detachment of marines on the shoal.


Vietnam warns on use of force

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s president has warned against the use of force in solving territorial disputes as his country and its neighbors lock horns with an increasingly assertive China over competing claims in the South China Sea.

President Truong Tan Sang made the comments in Japan’s parliament during a four-day visit. A joint press briefing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was scheduled later Tuesday.

“Vietnam has always maintained these principles over maritime disputes – resolution by peaceful means, compliance with international law, and respect for each other’s due rights and sovereignty,” the Vietnamese leader said.

“Countries concerned should not make the situation complex, but rather exercise self-restraint. They should neither use force nor threaten to use force.”

Sang did not make a direct reference to any particular country. But Vietnam and three other members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – have opposed Beijing’s attempt to claim almost all of the South China Sea.

Sang said he hoped to strengthen ties with Japan, which is also embroiled in a separate and bitter territorial dispute with China.

Tokyo has called for stronger security ties with ASEAN members to try to ease the growing territorial tensions.

“We deeply believe that relations between the two countries will be strengthened and expanded every day, which will make a significant contribution to securing peace, stability and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

Japan and China are locked in a bitter row over islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan as the Senkakus, but claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands. – With Aurea Calica, AFP










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