Philippines gains international support for South China Sea dispute with China

The Johnson South Reef, which is in contested waters in the South China Sea. It is high time for Asean to ramp up its efforts to implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and negotiate the final contours of a Code of Conduct in the region.

Malacañang on Saturday said it was the Philippines' peaceful approach to dealing with its maritime dispute with China that drew support from the international community, including from US President Barack Obama, who reacted strongly on Thursday to China's massive land reclamation in the South China Sea.

"Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions," Obama told a town hall event in Kingston, Jamaica, ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

"We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn't mean that they can just be elbowed aside," Obama said.

It was the strongest US reaction so far to China's land reclamation following publication of pictures that, according to analysts, showed how Beijing was trying to create "facts in the water" to strengthen its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday welcomed the statements of support from Obama and other countries that recently criticised China for aggressively reclaiming land at contested reefs in the South China Sea, apparently trying to alter natural rock formations in disputed waters, which could affect territorial claims such as the case brought by the Philippines in the United Nations.

Speaking on government-run radio, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government was committed to a peaceful resolution of the Philippines' territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, taking its case to international forums for discussions and to the United Nations for arbitration.

China's land reclamation in South China Sea waters within the exclusive economic zones of its smaller neighbours, including the Philippines and Vietnam, drew sharp criticism from Obama on Thursday.

In March, India assured the Philippines that it had its support in the promotion of a peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

Also in March, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia stood for the peaceful resolution of the maritime disputes and would promote peace and stability, maritime security, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

"These statements and those of other nations reflect growing international concern over these reclamations that are contrary to international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), and undermine our collective effort to build regional security and stability," the DFA said in a statement.