Wednesday, May 9, 2012
By Norman Bordadora in Manila/Philippine Daily Inquirer | Asia News Network – Sat, Apr 21, 2012
Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) -
The Philippines will not be cowed by China's deploying a large patrol vessel to Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said on Friday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sees this action as "an aggravation" in the 11-day standoff in the disputed shoal.
The Palace also said other countries' territorial claims in the disputed waters would be affected if China had its way at Panatag Shoal.
DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez confirmed on Friday that China has again beefed up its presence in the area with the arrival of a third maritime surveillance vessel.
"There are now three Chinese maritime surveillance ships in the area; the third one arrived this morning," he said, adding that the Philippines' lone Coast Guard vessel, the BRP Edsa, also remains in the area.
"It's a civilian ship from the fisheries department of China. This was confirmed by our Philippine Coast Guard in the area, but there is no report whether it was the gunboat," he said.
"Our Coast Guard said it is civilian because it's white. It did not say how powerful it is," he added when pressed if it was the same powerful military vessel that China had reportedly dispatched to the disputed area.
"The world knows that China has more ships and planes than the Philippines has and we cannot compete in this manner. We cannot solve this case in this manner. We are committed to a diplomatic solution," Hernandez said.
"And 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. We hope that China would behave as a responsible member of the international community," he added.
Eleven days into a fresh dispute with China over conflicting territorial claims in the disputed waters, the Philippines has yet to hear a statement of support from its mutual defence ally, the United States.
But Secretary Ricky Carandang, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, said the Palace believed the Philippines had enough support from the United States despite the Americans' silence on the standoff between the Philippines and China at Panatag Shoal.
"We will not be intimidated," Carandang said in a text message to reporters who sought Malacañang's reaction to China's deployment of a "gunboat" to Panatag Shoal, presumably to face off a Philippine Navy search and rescue vessel locked in a standoff with two Chinese surveillance ships at the shallows internationally known as Scarborough Shoal.
The standoff began on April 10 when Chinese vessels blocked a Philippine warship from arresting crews of Chinese fishing boats caught poaching protected marine life in the area.
Most advanced patrol boat
Chinese state media reported on Friday that China's most advanced fishing patrol vessel, the 108-metre Yuzheng 310, had arrived to protect Chinese fishers operating in the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea.
The Yuzheng 310 will protect China's "interests in territorial waters," the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said.
"The Yuzheng 310 will conduct routine patrols in waters off the coast of Huangyan Island, so as to protect China's sea rights and ensure the safety of Chinese fishermen," Xinhua quoted the South China Sea Fishery Bureau as saying.
China refers to Panatag Shoal as Huangyan Island. It says it has sovereign rights to all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coast of other countries and hundreds of kilometres from its own landmass.
The Philippine Department of National Defence said yesterday that it was not clear whether the Yuzheng 310 was going into Panatag Shoal.
"The Chinese media said it [would] be deployed to the West Philippine Sea, but did not state Scarborough Shoal," Peter Galvez, DND spokesperson, said.
"As long as it stays in international waters, we have no problem there," Galvez said.
"[But if] it goes within the [Philippines' exclusive economic zone], that's a different story," Galvez said.
Correcting local reporters, Galvez said Chinese media reports described the Yuzheng 310 as a fisheries vessel. "[It's] civilian," Galvez said. "We have no problem with that."
But he added, "We hope [the Chinese] do not [take] any action that may derail the current diplomatic initiatives toward a peaceful resolution [of the standoff]."
"We continue to discuss the issue with the Chinese government," Carandang said in his message to reporters. "The Philippine government is determined to find a peaceful solution to this. But we're also equally determined to assert our sovereignty over . . . our territory."
Carandang said that if, for some reason, Scarborough Shoal is determined to be Chinese territory and not Philippine territory, "then exactly what does that mean for the laws on the exclusive economic zones?"
"[I]f you create a precedent like that, does that not mean now that in other areas or other parts of the world one country can claim . . . territory even if it lies within the exclusive economic zone of another country?" Carandang asked.
Panatag Shoal is well within the 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines under the United Nations Conventions on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos).
Carandang said the dispute has far-reaching implications on ties between the Philippines and China.
"[W]hile 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," Carandang said.
"If the Philippines loses this, this will have implications for other countries [that] have competing claims with China, particularly those affected by the nine-dash line," he said.
The nine-dash theory is China's delineation of its territory in the South China Sea enclosed by nine dashes on the map that encompass islands and islets in the Spratly archipelago, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
"So this might look like an issue between the Philippines and China alone, but actually the implications of this have effects on other countries [in] the region," Carandang said.
Carandang said it was up to the United States if it wanted to comment on the dispute between the Philippines and China.
"We have a defence relationship with the United States," Carandang said. "We bought equipment from them. We bought vessels from them. We continue to purchase from them."
He mentioned the current joint exercises between American and Philippine troops and the Mutual Defence Treaty between the two countries.
"I think what's happening now is sufficient in terms of the support they are showing." Carandang said. "I don't know if it will make a difference and that's really up to them whether they want to speak on this matter," he added.
Sue China for 'bullying'
The Philippines has challenged China to bring their dispute to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), but China has refused.
On Friday, the party-list group Bayan Muna urged President Aquino to file charges in Itlos against China for "bullying" the Philippines at Panatag Shoal.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said the President should also press the Philippine claim in other international bodies, as the country's claim on Panatag is "more solid" than China's.
The DFA said the country was ready to go to Itlos.
"If China will not join us, then our legal team is preparing to go to Itlos unilaterally in order to have this issue resolved in that proper forum," Hernandez told reporters Friday. "We are asserting not only our territorial rights, but also our sovereign rights over that area," he said.
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