MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts in the region.
DUTERTE CRITICIZED FOR SHELVING RULING AGAINST CHINA
Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Friday that President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to seek Chinese compliance with an arbitration ruling has resulted in “more unlawful acts of intimidation and bullying in the South China Sea.”
Justice Antonio Carpio added that Duterte’s recent statement that he had a verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that effectively allows Chinese to fish in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone will “substantially diminish the arbitral award, a self-inflicted blow to our sovereign rights” in the South China Sea.
They spoke at a forum in Manila forum that marked the third anniversary of the July 12, 2016, ruling by a tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, that rejected China’s “nine-dash-line” claim to much of the South China Sea. The nine-dash term refers to the markings that outline Chinese-claimed territory on maps of the sea.
China did not participate in the tribunal’s proceedings and has dismissed and defied the ruling.
Duterte has put the July 12, 2016, ruling indefinitely in the backburner while reviving ties with China and seeking Chinese infrastructure funds, trade and investments. Then-President Benigno Aquino III initiated the case in 2013, following a dangerous standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships in a disputed shoal.
The United States used the third anniversary of the ruling to criticize China’s development of disputed South China Sea reefs into islands, some with runways and other facilities.
“It is provocative, complicates the peaceful settlement of disputes, threatens the security of other nations and undermines regional stability,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Friday, noting the tribunal’s rejection of China’s vast claim in the South China Sea.
She called the ruling a victory for rule of law and said China’s militarization of the disputed outcroppings betrays a 2015 commitment by Xi not to engage in such activity.
“We strongly oppose China’s efforts to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Ortagus said.
PHILIPPINES TAKES JUNE 9 INCIDENT TO SOUTHEAST ASIAN FORUM
The Philippine defense chief raised the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese trawler in the South China Sea in a meeting with Southeast Asian counterparts in Bangkok.
In the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ defense chiefs on Thursday, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana thanked the Vietnamese captain whose boat rescued the 22 Filipino fishermen when their boat sank last month after being hit by a Chinese vessel at night.
Lorenzana “took the opportunity to raise the recent Recto Bank incident and extend our nation’s gratitude to the Vietnamese fishing vessel captain and crew who rescued the twenty-two Filipino crewmen of the fishing vessel that sank after being hit by a Chinese vessel,” a Department of Defense statement said Sunday, referring to the Philippine name for the Reed Bank.
The Philippines protested the action of the Chinese fishermen, who left as the other boat sank. A Chinese Embassy statement said the Chinese vessel accidentally hit the Philippine fishing boat as it maneuvered away after being allegedly threatened by several Filipino fishing boats, an allegation the Filipino fishermen denied.
Duterte described the boat sinking as “a little maritime incident” that should not be blown out of proportion and said China’s side should be heard during the investigation.