DFA denounces China's fresh attempt to exercise control over Manila territories in the WPS

July 18, 2012 11:34 pm 

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, July 18 -– The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)on Wednesday denounced China’s fresh attempt to exercise authority over Manila-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea under a city it recently established to cover a wide expanse of the vast waters.

Chinese state media reported that the city, called Sansha, which puts under its jurisdiction over 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the West Philippine Sea, including the cluster of islands and atolls further south that is called the Spratlys, will hold its “first people’s congress.” The congress is said to represent the "legislative body" of the city.

“We don’t recognize that administrative prefecture based in Sansha city whose jurisdiction extends up to our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a news conference.

The Chinese city supposedly covers the Philippine-claimed Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and the Bajo de Masinloc, which had been at the center of tense territorial dispute between Manila and Beijing.

Both the KIG and Bajo de Masinloc are within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Philippines, China and 162 other nations are signatories to this treaty.

Manila has already protested China’s establishment of the new city because it clearly violated the country’s sovereignty over its territorial waters and continental shelf.

Hernandez said the protest still stands.

He said the Philippines will continue to exercise control and sovereignty over the KIG and Bajo de Masinloc and “will continue whatever activity that we need to do” in those areas.

China virtually claims the entire West Philippine Sea or also known as South China Sea, a strategic waterway coveted for its rich fishing grounds and huge oil and gas reserves. Apart from the Philippines and China, other claimants to the vast waters are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Manila is currently locked in a dangerous territorial dispute with Beijing over the Bajo de Masinloc, which is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone that is provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

A standoff erupted between the two Asian nations when Chinese government ships prevented Philippine authorities from arresting Chinese fishermen who are poaching in the northwestern Philippine territory.

The standoff temporarily ended when President Benigno S. Aquino III pulled out two Philippine vessels facing off with Chinese ships at the disputed area due to bad weather. Manila and Beijing have resolved to end the impasse peacefully and have been negotiating for a diplomatic solution to the issue.

However, DFA Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio said China reneged on its promise to withdraw all its vessels from Bajo de Masinloc’s lagoon.

Basilio, in a separate statement, said the Philippines forged an agreement with China “for the simultaneous pull-out of all vessels inside the shoal, which we undertook in good faith last June 4.”

Manila withdrew its vessels inside the shoal immediately but the Chinese vessels have remained and have even increased to nearly a hundred at some point.

China, she added, also agreed to remove its barrier at the entrance of the shoal.

“Yet to this day, the neighboring country has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement and has maintained its ships inside and outside the shoal, as well as its barrier, in its aim to establish effective control and jurisdiction in the shoal and surrounding waters,” Basilio said in one of the Philippines’ strongest rebukes to date against China.

“The Philippines could not perpetually remain mute over the brazen acts of infringement on its territory and intimidation by a powerful country,” Basilio said as she dismissed accusations that the Philippine strategy is in “disarray” following the embarrassing outcome of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Cambodia.

In that meeting, ASEAN failed to issue its traditional joint statement as Cambodia, a known Chinese ally, insistently blocked moves to mention the Bajo de Masinloc incident in the proposed communiqué.

The Philippines had the support of majority of ASEAN members and the bloc’s secretariat headed by Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, Basilio said.

Amid setbacks, Basilio said Manila will continue pushing for its three-track approach – political, diplomatic and legal – in dealing with the West Philippine Sea issue.(PNA) FPV/MDC/rsm

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