Jan 212015

The Philippines and the United States on Wednesday expressed deep concern over the ongoing Chinese reclamation of contested areas in the South China Sea, describing the status of structures there as “massive” and “growing.”

Philippine and US officials, who concluded their two-day meeting in Manila aimed at strengthening the two allies’ strategic defense and security alliance, once again criticized China’s indifference to international calls to stop the reclamation.

“We have reaffirmed our continuing concern over the destabilizing activities that are contrary to the Declaration of the Code of the Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as international law,” Foreign Undersecretary for Policy Evan Garcia told a press conference.

China’s simultaneous construction and expansion activities in several areas, which included features being claimed by Manila, has alarmed foreign governments, particularly the US and Japan.

Beijing maintains ownership of nearly 90 percent of the waters, including islands, shoals and reefs, citing historical records and ancient maps to back its claim.

“It is massive. Just look at the photographs. These are not small adjustments, these are huge activities that obviously designed to change the status quo,” Garcia said in a separate interview.

Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said China’s actions is “an ongoing concern” not only for the claimants, but for all Pacific nations, particularly the US, “that rely on freedom of navigation and sealanes and the principle of unimpeded and lawful commerce.”

Apart from reclamation activities, China likewise beefed up its military and paramilitary presence in the contested waters, stoking tensions anew in the resource-rich waters, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

‘Very serious’ 

Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino described the status of China’s reclamation as “very serious.”

“We are seriously concerned,” he told reporters in a separate interview. “It has grown from what we have observed from the last time we had our strategic dialogue.”

The Philippines said China’s persistent incursions in its territories despite several attempts to resolve their claims peacefully through negotiations prompted it to seek legal action through arbitration in 2013. The case is pending before an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

“The massive reclamation of China in the South China Sea is a clear violation of what we have agreed upon in the DOC and it is not helpful in terms of finding a way forward,” Garcia said. “It is not an example of what anybody would understand as self restraint.”

In 2002, China and the Association of South East Asian Nations, of which the Philippines and claimants Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are members, signed a non-binding code of conduct to ease tensions in the area. Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are the other members of the ASEAN.

The accord calls on all claimants to exercise restraint and stop new occupation of territories in the South China Sea. However, it lacks the power to sanction states that will violate its provisions.

China and ASEAN have yet to craft a code of conduct, which is envisioned as a legally-binding document.

Russel urged the ASEAN and China to act fast and finalize the code, which is aimed at preventing the territorial conflicts from degenerating into armed confrontations by enacting rules that would discourage aggression.

“We look forward to the day when China and its neighbors would conclude a binding code of conduct,” said Russel as he called on all parties to the territorial conflicts to practice self-restraint until a code of conduct is in place. — RSJ, GMA News

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