Canada, Britain back arbitration
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - June 5, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Britain and Canada are supporting the decision of the Philippines to seek international arbitration over maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

“It’s a legitimate right of the government of the Philippines to pursue that avenue,” Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder told The STAR yesterday. “We think that that’s the right approach.”

Reeder emphasized that his government does not take sides in territorial disputes, as he called for dialogue among rival claimants and a peaceful settlement of disputes.

Visiting The STAR, Reeder urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to forge a Code of Conduct with China in the South China Sea, almost all of which Beijing is claiming.

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad, for his part, said the other night that Britain has always been against provocative acts in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea, and will “not support any kind of escalation.”

Ahmad said his country’s position “is not dissimilar to Australia and the US in many respects.”

The US and Australia recently condemned China’s hostile acts in the South China Sea, particularly its sinking of a Vietnamese vessel near the Paracels.

As concerns over China’s aggressiveness intensify, Ahmad told The STAR that Britain’s position “remains the same throughout this difficult period.”

The ambassador spoke at a send-off reception for the Philippine delegation to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict co-hosted by the UK and Australia.

“Nobody objects to a country equipping itself to defend itself. In this modern day and age, the last thing we expect or even desire is the situation where classic conflict between nations over borders reappears. We have hard won peace in this region. Nobody wants to go back to the legacy of war,” Ahmad said.

He said Britain supports the Philippines’ decision to seek international arbitration to settle its maritime dispute with Beijing.

Ahmad also lauded the signing of an agreement between Manila and Jakarta resolving their maritime row over parts of Mindanao Sea and Celebes Sea. “After a long, long period they came to an agreement,” he said.

Ahmad said the agreement showed that dialogue – which Britain supports – works.

“What we do not support is any kind of escalation and provocation because by the use of naval forces or to create new facts on the ground is something that will increasingly lead to a reaction,” Ahmad said.

“What has happened as a result of this situation is that many other countries in ASEAN are beginning to think that they too will come under some difficulty – not just Vietnam and the Philippines – and therefore you see a common interest developing there as well and they are right to discuss that,” he said.

British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, in a CNBC report, said the US is the only meaningful counterweight to China’s growing global influence, but that other countries will have to “step up to the plate” and contribute given the “blunt reality” of America’s challenging fiscal position.

The ambassador said the situation in the disputed waters appears to be escalating despite the existence of mechanisms to resolve maritime conflict, particularly those embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. While China is a signatory to UNCLOS, it has rejected Manila’s resorting to international arbitration to settle their maritime row.

“The world should operate under a rules-based system, where we observe each other’s sovereign rights but we should not interfere with maritime passage. We should not interfere with economic zone. We should not interfere – certainly not with the air defense zone. These are things we do not recognize,” Ahmad said.

Also in an interview with The STAR, Australian ambassador Bill Tweddell called on all parties to resolve their differences peacefully.

“It can be interpreted as our support for peaceful resolution of disputes,” Tweddell said, referring to condemnation of China’s “destabilizing” actions in the South China Sea by Australian defense minister David Johnston and US defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

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