Saturday, February 15, 2014

China warns US vs siding with RP in maritime rift

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 16): China warns US vs siding with RP in maritime rift

China warned the United States anew against taking sides in the South China Sea dispute after US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said Thursday that the US will “help” the Philippines in the event that China occupies disputed islands in the South China Sea.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the bilateral arrangement between allies the Philippines and the United States “should not harm the interests of a third party.”

China always maintains that the South China Sea dispute should be solved through bilateral negotiation and consultation between countries directly-concerned based on respect for historical facts and international law,” Hua said.

She said the US is not a party concerned in the South China Sea dispute and should honor its commitment of not taking sides on territorial sovereignty issue. 

She also advised US officials to “be discreet in word and deed and do more for peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific, rather than the opposite.”

Greenert told students at a state defence college during a visit to Manila that the US would honor its mutual defence treaty with the Philippines amid a seething territorial conflict with China over the resource-rich waters.

“Of course we would help you. I don’t know what that help would be, specifically. I mean we have an obligation because we have a treaty,” he added.

His remarks, one of the strongest US declarations of support for the Philippines, come as concerns rise that China will attempt to forcefully assert its claim to almost all of the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also on Friday stated China’s basic view and policy on the South China Sea during talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Wang said the overall situation in the South China Sea is stable. China is capable and confident of working with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to safeguard peace in the region.

The freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea was, is and will always be, unquestionable, he said, noting that all countries enjoy the lawful right to free navigation in the South China Sea.
China and Asean countries have implemented the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and strengthened maritime cooperation, he said, adding that the negotiation on the South China Sea code of conduct (COC) is moving forward smoothly.

China has sufficient historical and legal evidence for its sovereignty over the Nansha islands and adjacent waters, Wang said.

The existing disputes in the South China Sea were caused by some countries’ illegal occupation of islands belonging to China since the 1970s, he said apparently referring to the Philippines.

“Even so, China has always been committed to solving disputes through negotiating directly with countries involved and in a peaceful manner,” said the foreign minister.

He said that recent unfounded and untrue rumors had magnified disputes in the South China Sea and artificially upped tensions in the region.
“This is unacceptable,” Wang said.

China’s claim conflicts with that of the Philippines, which has a 1951 treaty with the United States that officials say bind the two partners to defend each other in case of external attack.

The United States has not taken a stand on the conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea, which also involve Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

But Admiral Greenert said that he wanted to send a “clear signal... that aggressive behavior outside of international norms is contrary to good order.”

“You may have seen some statements coming from our policy makers exactly in that direction. You will see more of that from us,” he added.

He also said that the US Navy would increase its presence in the Western Pacific region from the present level of about 50 ships to 60 ships by 2020.

In December, during a visit to the Philippines, Kerry warned China against any move to declare an air defence zone in the South China Sea, a declaration that was seen as an affirmation of the defence ties between Manila and Washington.

Greenert also praised the Philippines’ move to ask a UN tribunal to strike down China’s claims to most of the South China Sea, saying it was “a terrific idea.”

He urged the Philippines “to stay the course and bring this to fruition,” even though China has refused to participate in the process.

Greenert said during his visit to the National Defense College of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo the development of maritime domain awareness capabilities of nations with conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea will do much to ease the tensions in the region.

“I would work on maritime domain awareness, in other words I would work to be sure that we had a clarity of what’s going on out there in and around the West Philippine Sea on a consistent manner, he added.

He added interoperability (with other powers in the region) should be attained.

“Use the easy stuff first to share information on what we see out there so whatever you see you want, as I’m saying, make sure your headquarters understand that, thoughout your headquarters in Manila but also out there at your fleet headquarters (and) then be willing to share that with Vietnam, Malaysia whomever and work toward that,” the US admiral stressed.

Greenert said that all countries with stakes in the sea dispute must be able to communicate with each other to get assistance or force multipliers.

“I think (developing) maritime domain awareness will be tough, and then underpinning it all is training your people so getting a solid baseline of professional officers,” he added.

Greenert’s three-day official visit with the Philippine Navy which started last Feb. 12 ended yesterday.

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