Friday, January 8, 2016

UK warns of ‘red line’ at sea

From The Standard (Jan 8): UK warns of ‘red line’ at sea

WHILE the United Kingdom remains neutral in any maritime dispute over the South China Sea, London has a clear and non-negotiable position on freedom of navigation and overflights, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

“We have a clear position on freedom of navigation and overflights. Freedom of navigation and overflights are non-negotiable. They are red lines for us,” Hammond told reporters after holding bilateral talks with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

“We will maintain the position that we, as an international maritime and trading nation, enjoy freedom of navigation and overflights in the South China Sea. We expect to continue to exercise those rights,” Hammond said in a joint press briefing with Del Rosario.

Crossing the red line. President Benigno Aquino III receives United Kingdom Ambassador Asif Ahmad and UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond at the Music Room of Malacañan Palace on Thursday. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

Hammond said they also discussed the strategic partnership between the UK and the Philippines in the middle of the global and regional challenges threatening security and prosperity, including global efforts to tackle extremism.

Del Rosario, for his part, said the Philippine government fears that China’s landings and test flights in an artificial island in the South China Sea could lead to a military defense zone if left unchallenged.

“We are very concerned about the fact that China had already flown their flights to Fiery Cross Reef and we are also concerned that there are plans to do more,” Del Rosario said.

“If this is not challenged, China will take the position that the ADIZ could be imposed and whether this is done in terms of a de facto basis or whether it is official, this will deemed as unacceptable to us,” Del Rosario said.

China said it landed three planes over Fiery Cross Reef in recent days, prompting protests from rival claimants Vietnam and the Philippines, and raising fears it could impose military controls in the area.

Hammond, whose Manila visit followed a trip to China, did not elaborate on what action would be taken if the “red flag” was raised, other than to say Britain would continue to assert its right to sail in the area.

Del Rosario said he was worried that, with the test flights, China was laying the groundwork for the declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), similar to the one it declared in the East China Sea that riled Japan.

Vietnam, another claimant in the South China Sea, has also condemned the test flights as a violation of its sovereignty.

China has alarmed its rivals with its massive reclamation and construction of facilities on disputed reefs, including a 3,000-meter (9,842-foot) runway on Fiery Cross, around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the southern province of Hainan.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Saturday after announcing the first test flight that it was “civilian” in nature.

The Philippines has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to void China’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea. It expects a decision this year.

China did not participate in the arbitration hearings at The Hague as it maintained that sea disputes should be resolved bilaterally.

“Win or lose, we will abide by the rule of law and we expect China to do the same,” Del Rosario said.

Hammond said Britain would not take sides on the dispute but appealed to claimants to resolve their differences under international law.

“We recognize the tribunal and we will recognize the decision of the tribunal,” Hammond said.

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