“We encourage nations to peacefully resolve their disputes to internationally accepted mechanism and accordance with international law, including the Law of the Sea and without coercion,” Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said during a press conference in Malacañang on Friday.
He said he supports ASEAN efforts to negotiate the South China Sea Code of Conduct which he said will help peacefully manage disagreements and tensions arising from competing territorial and maritime claims.
Hagel also said he “appreciates” the Philippines’ efforts to solve the dispute through peaceful means.
The Philippines sought arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) last January to try to declare as “illegal” China’s nine-dash claim, which covers almost all of the South China Sea, including sections that have been declared as the West Philippine Sea.
China has resisted Manila’s move to let a U.N. body intervene in the disputes, saying the Philippines’ case was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations.
China prefers to negotiate one on one with other claimants, which would give it advantage because of its sheer size compared to smaller rivals that have less military force.
Hagel, however, said China “clearly understands” that “the world is interconnected and all powers must develop relationships and get along with each other for their own economic development, for stability, security, peace.”
“You cannot have growth, development, and possibilities for the future and your children without stability, without security, without resolving disputes,” he said.
The South China Sea — a strategic waterway and major trade route — had been a source of conflict among competing claimants the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan.
The vast waters are dotted with islands, reefs, cays, shoals and rock formations. The region is believed to be rich in natural gas and oil deposits, and analysts say the competing claims could spark a military conflict in the region. – VVP, GMA News