Philippines’ Aquino firm on UN case amid China warnings on maritime dispute

Philippine President Benigno Aquino vowed Monday to push through with a UN appeal to solve its maritime disputes with China, as Beijing warned of consequences.

“We are not here to challenge China, to provoke them into any action, but I do believe that they should recognise we also have the right to defend our own interests,” he told reporters.

“There is a consensus (in the Philippine government) that this is the right way to go.”

The Philippines asked a United Nations arbitral tribunal on Sunday to declare Beijing’s claims over most of the South China Sea as a violation of international law, submitting nearly 4,000 pages of evidence to back its case.

China has refused to take part in the arbitration, warning that bilateral relations will suffer.

“The Philippines must bear all consequences for its provocations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday in pointed comments on the UN case and the latest maritime stand-off between the two countries on Saturday.

A Filipino vessel that also carried Filipino journalists slipped past a blockade of two Chinese coastguard vessels Saturday to deliver supplies to and rotate troops on a remote and disputed reef called Second Thomas Shoal.

Hong alleged the trip was aimed at “hyping” up the Philippine case ahead of the UN filing.

“This fully shows that the Philippines’ unilateral moves of international arbitration is to cover up the fact to occupy Chinese territory and create troubles in the South China Sea. This is political provocation by abusing international laws,” Hong said.

“China will not allow the Philippine side to illegally occupy (Second Thomas Shoal) in any form.”

Aquino, meanwhile, praised the Filipino marines on the shoal as well as their successful resupply.

“They accomplished the mission without, I believe, increasing the tension,” he added.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, a vital avenue for world trade that is also believed to harbour vast oil and gas reserves.

The claims overlap those of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The Philippines case argues the Chinese claims are illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and interfere with Manila’s sovereign rights to its continental shelf.

The dispute has become a key concern for the United States, which, while a military ally of the Philippines, took no position on the sovereignty issues.

It has, however, maintained the importance of freedom of navigation in the vital waterway.

The US State Department issued a statement Sunday backing the Philippines’ UN appeal.

Hong, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Monday China holds that such disputes are “excluded” from the arbitration process of the UN sea treaty.

“America is not a party concerned over the South China Sea dispute,” and has reiterated it took no positions on sovereignty issues, he said.

“We urge the American side to honour its commitment and do more things that are conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

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