Beijing summons Phl envoy, keeps door open to talks
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - April 2, 2014 - 12:00am

BEIJING – China summoned Philippine Ambassador Erlinda Basilio on Monday to lodge a strong complaint over Manila’s seeking of international arbitration.

The filing of the case against China on Sunday at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague subjected Beijing to international legal scrutiny over disputed waters of the South China Sea for the first time.

Chinese deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin told the Philippine ambassador that Beijing was “extremely dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the case Manila had brought to The Hague, Netherlands, repeating that China did not accept it and would not participate.

“The Philippines’ forcing of international arbitration is not conducive towards resolving the Sino-Philippine dispute over the South China Sea,” the foreign ministry quoted Liu as saying.

The case would not shake China’s resolve to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Liu added.

The only way to address the issue was through bilateral talks, he said, repeating another of China’s standard lines.

On Sunday, Manila electronically transmitted a 4,000-page memorial or written argument of its position on the West Philippine Sea issue to the United Nations arbitral tribunal based in The Hague.

It argues that the Chinese claim over almost the entire West Philippine Sea is illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and interferes with the Philippines’ sovereign rights to its continental shelf.

Both countries are signatories to UNCLOS, but Beijing argues that its provisions do not apply to the row.

In Manila, Chinese embassy Charge d’Affaires Sun Xiangyang said his country was “deeply disturbed” by the Philippines’ filing of the memorial as negotiations had not been exhausted.

“We find it very hard to understand these moves of the Philippines and we are deeply disturbed by and concerned with consequences of such moves,” Sun said in a press briefing.

“We have not come to the end of the negotiation path, and we should not shut the door to negotiations. We have deep conviction in China-Philippines friendship, and we are fully confident that we could settle the problem through direct negotiations,” he said.

He belittled the effectiveness of international arbitration, saying even big countries like the United States had rejected its jurisdiction over serious matters.

China’s refusal to accept arbitration, he said, was actually in keeping with the law.

“International justice or arbitration is one way of settling international disputes, but it does not offer a solution to all problems,” Sun said. “In reality, there have been quite a number of cases where international judicial or arbitral bodies passed a ruling, but relevant issues still remain unresolved.”

He reiterated China’s position that issues be settled bilaterally.

Sun said that under normal circumstances, bringing up dispute before international arbitration requires mutual consent.

“The Philippine side had failed to notify the Chinese side, not to mention seeking China’s consent, before it actually initiated the arbitration,” he pointed out.

He said that by pushing through with the filing of the memorial, the Philippines caused serious damage to its relations with China.

He also stressed that a bilateral approach to settling territorial disputes is a consensus among China and Southeast Asian countries under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

He said Beijing can boast of having successfully settled disputes over boundaries with its 14 land neighbors.

“We see no reason why China should abandon such successful practices that it has upheld for long,” Sun said.

Sun said that while the Philippines’ resorting to arbitration is based on UNCLOS, such tack is not applicable to all maritime issues.

In international practice, Sun said many countries, including the US, have shunned arbitration on issues involving national interest.

“Among them are both big countries like the United States and small and medium-sized countries. This is a commonplace practice,” Sun said.

“To accuse China of disobeying international law on the ground that it has not accepted the arbitration is an act of applying ‘double standards.’ This is not fair to the Chinese side. And it does not conform to the true spirit of international rule of law,” he said.


‘Violation of morality’

Chinese state media said Manila’s action was a violation of morality and international law.

“The act of the Philippine side is against the international law and the historical truth as well as against morality and basic rules of international relations,” the People’s Daily, official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said in a commentary.

It said Manila had “provoked China” by going to “so-called international arbitration.”

It also called Manila’s action “both illegal and unreasonable” and “an act lacking credibility.”

The commentary was reported in English by the official news agency Xinhua, often an indication that authorities want it to reach a wider audience.

China – which is vastly more powerful than any of the several countries it has disputes with in the strategically significant waters – prefers to negotiate with them individually, rather than in international forums.

“The Philippines attempted to solicit international sympathy through disguising itself as a small and weak country,” the commentary said.

It also accused the Philippines of attempting “to legalize its invasion of Chinese islands through the arbitration.”

A day before the submission of the memorial, two Chinese coast guard vessels tried to stop a Philippine civilian ship belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources from delivering provisions to a small garrison of Marines stationed at a grounded transport ship on Ayungin Shoal.

President Aquino vowed Monday to press ahead with the legal appeal.

“We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognize we also have the right to defend our own interests,” he told reporters. With AFP

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