Saturday, July 18, 2015

U.S. lawmakers praise PHL move to bring disputes with China before int'l arbitration

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 18): U.S. lawmakers praise PHL move to bring disputes with China before int'l arbitration

Top U.S. lawmakers backed the Philippine government's decision to pursue international arbitration to resolve its maritime disputes with China as they called for stronger American military support for its long-time ally amid Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

On Friday, a statement of support was issued by U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jack Reed (D-RI), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praising the Philippines’ efforts to peacefully resolve territorial disputes through arbitration.

“Although the United States does not take a position on the competing claims, we applaud Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and his government for his commitment to pursuing this legal course of action,” they said in a statement that adds an important voice to Manila’s stance that arbitration is an “open, legal, durable and peaceful” way of resolving the disputes.

“While China is constructing and militarizing new land features in the South China Sea and increasingly turning to coercion to achieve its goals, we are encouraged to see that Manila continues to make every effort to resolve these claims peacefully, consistent with international law, and through international arbitration mechanisms.”

Dotted with islands, shoals, cays, reefs and rock formations, the South China Sea is a contested major waterway with lush marine life and rich in oil and gas reserves.

It is home to overlapping claims by China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. However, China says it has indisputable and historical claim of nearly 90 percent of the entire sea even as it overlaps with the territories of its Asian neighbors.

China’s massive reclamation on at least seven formerly submerged reefs it controls has worried other claimants and other nations like the United States and Japan.

Last week, a legal team from the Philippines took part in oral arguments before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to convince the five-man panel of judges to assume jurisdiction over the case.

A decision on jurisdiction is crucial as it will determine if the Philippines’ case will proceed or not. The court said it will rule on the matter before the year ends.

Manila has maintained that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes through a legal framework such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.

UNCLOS is a 1982 accord signed by 163 countries, including the Philippines and China, which governs the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states.

McCain, Reed, Corker and Cardin said Washington must continue to support its partners and allies, including the Philippines, as they contend with China’s aggressive actions.

“This requires not only routinely exercising freedom of navigation and overflight activities in the East and South China Seas, but also bolstering the maritime capabilities of South East Asian nations and conducting joint exercises and patrols,” they said.

Admiral Scott Swift, U.S. Commander of the Pacific Fleet, has reassured its Asian allies that it is prepared to act against any perceived Chinese threat in the region.

Swift told journalists in Manila on Friday that the Navy is “interested” in stepping up drills with allies like Japan, Australia and the Philippine and increase the presence of its forces in the region.

“It is critical that the United States take the necessary steps to sustain a balance of power that will continue to uphold peace and stability throughout the region,” the lawmakers said.

“Given the pace and scope of China's military trajectory, we believe this will demand a sustained investment in our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.”

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