Saturday, February 17, 2018

RP, China okay no-build zone

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 18): RP, China okay no-build zone

A no-build zone was declared on uninhabited features in the disputed areas in the South China Sea to which China and the Philippines agreed to during a recent bilateral meeting, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.

Cayetano said in a televised interview that the agreement was made during a “no-holds-barred” consultative meeting last February 13, where representatives from China and the Philippines talked about the “alleged militarization” in the disputed maritime area.

“There’s also a commitment by China and all other parties not to build on uninhabited features in accordance with the declaration of conduct in the South China Sea,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said the government will continue to work on having a legally binding code of conduct (CoC) to serve as a guideline on the actions of claimant countries in the South China Sea.

He said the Philippine government panel also strongly objected to the reported militarization in the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

“Ever since the Philippine stand is there should be no militarization by any country,” Cayetano said.
“Not because we are not announcing diplomatic action, does not mean we are not taking it,” he said.

The Chinese panel, however, said it was “unfair” that China is being singled out in the buildup of structures on the contested areas since other claimant countries were also building their own.
China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the Spratlys.

In 2014 China began massive dredging operations in seven reefs in the Spratly Islands - Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, and Johnson South Reef which Cayetano noted was still outside Mr. Duterte’s administration.

“When the Duterte administration started, China was already reclaiming and building there. How can we stop it?” he said.

When Duterte assumed the presidency, he got an assurance form China it will no longer build in disputed areas, Cayetano said.

He said the government is working on “stopping it (the construction) from getting worse.”
Duterte has said the Philippines cannot afford to declare war against China, maintaining it is best to stay friends with the Asian giant.

Productive bilateral

Delegations from the Philippines and China met on last February 13 for the 2nd Meeting of the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM).

Both sides took the opportunity to highlight the exponential improvement in bilateral relations and the many opportunities for growth in various areas of cooperation.

The delegations, led by DFA Undersecretary Enrique A. Manalo and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, also discussed ways to manage and prevent incidents at sea, promote dialogue and cooperation on maritime issues, and enhance mutual trust and confidence.

The Philippine side brought up territorial claims and sovereignty rights issues, and discussed how to manage and prevent incidents on the ground.

Both sides expressed their countries’ respective positions on the ongoing territorial disputes. While there are points of disagreement, both delegations are in agreement that the best way forward is to cooperate and properly manage issues of mutual concern and preserve security and stability in the region.

Cayetano said the BCM serves as a venue for the Philippines and China to manage their differences amicably, and to show the world how disputes can be handled in a peaceful manner, and how cooperation and collaboration can benefit the two countries’ peoples despite a complicated and difficult dispute.

“The Duterte Administration is unwavering in its commitment to protect our country’s territorial claims and maritime entitlements. Let me also say that we are also of the position that ongoing territorial disputes should be resolved in a manner consistent with the spirit of good neighborly relations and the 1982 UNCLOS,” Cayetano said.

Pursuant to the strategy of the Duterte administration of “friends to all and enemies to none”, the Secretary said the Philippines engages all countries whether claimant or non-claimant, whether we have a dispute with them or not, and this has led to much mutual trust and confidence and translated into gains in the disputed areas as well as in other areas of cooperation and collaboration.

Cayetanocited positive developments in the South China Sea which are access of Filipino fishermen within the areas in dispute; measures set in place for all parties to protect the environment and marine ecosystem in the South China Sea; and a commitment by China and all parties not to build on uninhabited features in accordance with the Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea.

“Let me note that our fishermen are back exercising their livelihood in Scarborough Shoal, and overall, the situation in the greater South China Sea has become more stable than in past years,” according to Secretary Cayetano.

These warm and friendly relations likewise resulted in tremendous economic benefits for the country, with China lifting the ban on the import of bananas from the Philippines, together with, to date, over $24 Billion worth of assistance, investment, pledges, commercial loans from China, with focus on infrastructure development under the “Build Build Build” program and further increasing economic development in the Philippines.

Cayetano further stressed that there are ongoing talks and continuous diplomatic actions being undertaken to protect the interests of the Philippines in the South China Sea.

“Just because we are not in an open shouting match with China, or arguing in public, doesn’t mean that the issues aren’t being dealt with decisively. On the contrary, we are not only exerting efforts but also getting things done,” Cayetano said.

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