TOKYO - President Aquino on Wednesday called on China "to reexamine all efforts" in asserting its claims to the South China Sea as he underscored the need for the stabilizing presence of US forces in the Asia-Pacific region amid the growing Chinese military buildup in disputed waters.
Taking questions at an open forum following his keynote at Nikkei's 21st Conference on the Future of Asia, Aquino cited the need for stability to ensure economic development in the region and reminded China of its "responsibility" as a member of the international community.
Several countries have expressed concern over China's aggressive efforts to create islands out of otherwise uninhabitable rock formations in the South China Sea, as it continues to reiterate its "indisputable" sovereignty over a vast expanse of waters.
Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of the South China Sea.
"When America and Japan both talked about their concerns, and this voice is also seconded by the European Union and various other countries that have expressed concern about the reclamation efforts, that reminds China, I believe, of its responsibility as a member of the community of nations to adhere to international law," Aquino said.
He noted that China had been in violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea for its continuing efforts to build up its presence in the disputed waters, encroaching into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Philippines has a pending arbitration case in the United Nations to compel China to back off the country's EEZ within the disputed waters. China has refused to take part in the proceedings.
"This reclamation effort seems to go against both the letter of this agreement entered into, as well as the spirit of the law. So, perhaps, we again… We reiterate, we ask China: 'Is this a necessary step?'" Aquino said.
"And if stability is a necessary prerequisite to prosperity for all, and if prosperity for all our peoples is the be-all and end-all of any government, then perhaps they should reexamine all of these efforts and see whether or not this is necessary given the increasing tensions that are happening because of these activities," he said.
At an international defense conference last week in Singapore, US officials said China's expanding reclamation work could be for military use.