Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Philippines asks China to explain ship deployment

The Philippines has asked China to explain its deployment of a patrol ship to guard disputed territory it claims in the South China Sea, saying the move has sparked new tensions over the potentially oil-rich waters, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday. Del Rosario said Chinese diplomats have previously said that Beijing will only assert its claims, including by possibly intercepting foreign ships, in waters off its southernmost province of Hainan. But China also claims that most of the South China Sea falls under Hainan's jurisdiction, he said.

The Philippines has asked China to specify the limits of the territory it will guard, del Rosario said.

"Everybody's hot and bothered," del Rosario told reporters. "That's why we're saying, define, please define for us, but they're not answering."

The Chinese patrol ship, equipped with a helipad, left the southern city of Haikou for the South China Sea on Dec. 27, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported late last month.

Chinese officials established last year what they called Sansha city on a remote island 350 kilometers (220 miles) from Hainan to administer hundreds of thousands of square miles (kilometers) of offshore territory and islands that are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Sansha is administered by Hainan.

The Philippines, a U.S. treaty ally, has described China's move as unacceptable. Vietnam called it a violation of international law. Washington has also criticized China's formal establishment of Sansha city and a military garrison there, saying the move risked an escalation in tensions.

Although China and the Philippines have taken steps to patch up relations that were strained by the territorial disputes last year, del Rosario said Manila has not changed its policy of pursuing its claims. The Philippines, he said, will continue raising the issue with other countries, a move rejected by China, which wants to resolve the disputes through bilateral negotiations with each of the claimant countries.

Del Rosario said he will discuss the territorial rifts with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, when they meet in Manila on Thursday. Japan's own territorial feud with China has flared recently.

Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he would support a reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist postwar constitution to loosen the reins on the military and stand up to Beijing over the territorial dispute. Asked to comment on the possibility of a stronger Japan in Asia, del Rosario welcomed it.

"I think that there is a view that a stronger Japan would be a balancing force and could contribute in a great way to stability in the region," del Rosario said.

He said there also are plans for Brunei, Malaysia the Philippines and Vietnam, which are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to discuss the disputes on the sidelines of an annual meeting of the 10-nation bloc in Brunei this year.

Del Rosario said the Philippines is considering developing islands it controls in disputed South China Sea areas into tourism destinations, but added that he was not aware of the details of the plan.

Many fear the territorial disputes could spark Asia's next armed conflict.-The Philippine Star (January 09, 2013 8:12PM)

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