Manila pushes on with case over disputed waters

The Philippines is pressing on with a case it filed before an international court challenging China's claims over almost all of the South China Sea, saying it has won "broad support" from ASEAN during a regional meeting in Myanmar over the weekend.

"In general, there's broad support for our triple-action plan among ASEAN countries. They felt parts of it were doable," the foreign ministry's spokesman Charles Jose said at a news briefing yesterday.

The plan includes a "final approach" that calls for settling territorial disputes that have turned the South China Sea into a geopolitical tinderbox through international arbitration. The first is cessation of "provocative" activities, and the second is implementation of an existing mechanism for managing territorial disputes in the waters as well as the conclusion of the binding Code of Conduct.

The Philippines filed on March 30 a plea before a United Nations arbitration tribunal alleging that China's claims to 90 per cent of the South China Sea and its seabed, covering areas as far as 870 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese coast, are illegal under international law.

China has rejected the Philippines' triple-action plan as well as a proposal from the United States calling for a freeze on "provocative acts" in the South China Sea.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing was ready to listen to "well-intentioned proposals" on managing disputes, but he urged Manila to drop its UN case.

He said the Philippines, in pursuing the case, is jumping to the last part of its triple-action plan.

"If the Philippines wants to carry it out, it should revoke international arbitration because that is the third step. What it has done is jump to the third step," he told reporters in Myanmar.

He insisted that any move for adjudication based on international law would be premature.

"Any proposal to come up with an alternative would only disrupt discussion of the Code of Conduct," he said.

But Mr Jose said China has "misunderstood" the Philippines' plan.

"It is not suppose to be carried out consecutively, one step at a time," he said.

He said all three stages of the "triple-action plan" can be pursued simultaneously.

Mr Jose said "all is not lost", despite China's rejection of the plan, "because ASEAN adopted two of the elements that we are proposing" in a joint communique it issued at the end of the ministerial meeting in Myanmar.

ASEAN in its joint statement "urged all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions which would complicate the situation and undermine peace, stability and security in the South China Sea".

Mr Jose said ASEAN also agreed to hasten talks on the Code of Conduct.

Both points are in the Philippines' triple-action plan, he said.

As for arbitration, he said ASEAN agreed to "intensify consultations with China" on "measures and mechanisms" that would "conclusively and, in a durable manner, resolve disputes".

"For us, one of the means is arbitration," he said. "In the promotion of our national interest, we must proceed with arbitration."

This article was first published on August 12, 2014.
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