Philippines to continue consultations over shoal dispute

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Saturday, April 21, 2012


MANILA (Updated) -- The Philippine government remains committed to ongoing consultations with the People’s Republic of China toward a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the Scarborough Shoal dispute, an official said.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ramon Carandang said the government will continue to discuss the issue with the Chinese government, despite Beijing’s rejection of Manila’s proposal to bring the issue to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

China rejected anew the Philippines’ proposal as it sent Friday a third patrol vessel to the shoal where both sides claim sovereignty.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez told a news conference in Manila Friday that China's move was seen as an escalation of the standoff, originally sparked when two Chinese maritime surveillance ships prevented a Philippine warship from arresting several Chinese fishermen.

The fishermen slipped away from the shoal, angering Philippine officials.

The Philippines subsequently replaced the warship with a smaller coast guard vessel that was facing off with the two Chinese ships, with each side demanding the other pull out first.

Hernandez said the Philippines plans to ask China's representatives why they violated an earlier agreement not to aggravate the situation.

"We understand that the world is watching, and the issue at hand has a wider implication on how China is asserting its territorial claims, which have no basis in international law," Hernandez said.

The latest Chinese patrol vessel was dispatched after the Philippines refused to withdraw its coast guard ship from Scarborough Shoal, China's state-run Xinhua news agency said.

Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario, who is currently on a visit to the United States, said earlier that the Philippines cannot compete with China militarily and was seeking a diplomatic solution.

Hernandez said the Philippines was ready to take the dispute to an international court despite China's earlier rejection of that idea.

"It is the proper and competent forum to decide the issue," he said.

Carandang said the country exercises full sovereignty and jurisdiction over the rocks of Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag or Scarborough Shoal).

"But we're also equally determined to assert our sovereignty over what is our territory," he said, noting that Bajo de Masinloc is not part of the Spratlys.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Bajo de Masinloc is an integral part of the Philippine territory and part of the town of Masinloc in Zambales province. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales and is within the 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and Philippine Continental Shelf.

Carandang said the government remains confident that the ownership dispute between the country and China would be resolved through diplomatic, legal and peaceful means.

"And I'd like to add also, while this issue has immediate implications for us and for China, it also has long-term implications for the rest of the region—for stability in the region," he said.

"In the immediate sense, this is an issue between the Philippines and China. But, in the end, this is an issue that has implications not just for the Philippines but also for other countries who are interested in navigating the South China Sea or, as we call it, the West Philippine Sea. So this is really an international issue," he added.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the reason for the third ship was because the Philippines violated China's jurisdiction and interfered with Chinese fishermen.

He said Beijing hoped the Philippine side would "work with us to ease tension" and that senior Philippine officials "won't mislead the public anymore."

The shoal, which lies in what the Philippines considers its 370-kilometer (230-mile) exclusive economic zone, is among numerous islands, reefs and coral outcrops in the South China Sea claimed by China, the Philippines and other nations for their potential oil and gas deposits, rich fishing grounds and proximity to busy commercial sea lanes.

About 100 Filipino demonstrators called on China to withdraw from the shoal in a third day of protests outside the Chinese Consulate in Manila. (SDR/AP/Sunnex)

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