3:01 am | Sunday, July 29th, 2012
MANILA, Philippines—Banking on diplomacy to resolve territorial disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Malacañang is distancing itself from the US criticism of a Chinese plan to put up a garrison on a tiny island in a distant part of the disputed waters.
Prominent US senators on Thursday declared the Chinese move provocative and a possible violation of international law.
US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the United States was pressing all parties to work on a code of conduct for the West Philippine Sea, and was concerned by “unilateral moves.”
Nuland said, “There’s a concern here that they are beginning to take actions when we want to see all of these issues resolved at the table.”
On Saturday, one of President Aquino’s press officers steered the Palace away from the US statements.
“Well, we do not know how our friends in China will take that,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on state-run dzRB radio. She refused to comment on the US statements, saying the Philippine government had its own position on the Chinese plan to garrison Woody Island in the Paracels.
The government is getting “good results” from diplomatic efforts to resolve the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China peacefully, Valte said.
She said the disputes over Panatag Shoal off western Luzon and the Kalayaan Islands in the Spratlys were “just one of the facets of our multifaceted relationship with China.”
“We continue to talk to our counterparts for other things that concern the relationship,” Valte said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing on Tuesday and handed her a note protesting China’s plans to establish a military garrison on Woody Island and the arrival of a large Chinese fishing fleet in the Spratlys.
China proceeded with its plans anyway. On Friday, China named two senior military officials to head the garrison on Woody Island. Senior Col. Cai Xihong was named garrison commander and Senior Col. Liao Chaoyi was appointed as the garrison’s political commissar.
The Philippines has no territorial claims in the Paracels, but the DFA says China’s plan to administer the island group and the Spratlys from Sansha municipality on Woody Island is unacceptable.
President Aquino called for restraint, refusing to comment on the military’s report that some vessels from the Chinese fishing fleet vessels had moved near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys.
Twenty of the fishing vessels were within 9 kilometers of the island, seat of government of the Kalayaan municipality in Palawan province, as of Tuesday, according to the military’s Naval Forces West in Palawan.
There were reports on Saturday that the Chinese fishing boats were moving away from the Philippine border.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan wants to know whether the United States believes in the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea that “China appears to be annexing one by one.”
Honasan, a former military officer, wants a performance review of the Philippines’ bilateral agreements with other countries to see whether these are doing the country any good amid threats posed by China’s increasing aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea.
“We have the Mutual Defense Treaty, we have the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Honasan said by phone on Saturday. “Perhaps what we need to ask the US is whether they believe in our claim or not,” he said, referring to territories in the West Philippine Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Honasan also mentioned the commitment made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help the Philippines put up a “minimum, credible defense.”
“We can’t stop there,” Honasan said. “We have to ask when, where, how and, if we’re feeling rather cocky, how much?”
Honasan said the Philippines must be getting just a fraction of the US military aid to Pakistan. And yet it was in Pakistan that al-Qaida supremo Osama bin Laden had been hiding for more than a decade until the United States traced him there last year and killed him.
Honasan noted that the United States does not want to take sides in the West Philippine Sea territorial disputes. If that is so, he said, the United States can play “global policeman” and keep the contending parties in the West Philippine Sea disputes from getting into direct confrontations.
He suggested a performance audit of the Philippines’ security agreements with the United States and other countries.
“If we can’t get anything from these agreements, why should we still have these agreements?” Honasan said.
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