EU lawmakers to China : Face PHL before UN tribunal

February 15, 2013 11:30 pm 

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Feb. 15 –- A group of visiting European Union lawmakers Friday said China should join the arbitration process initiated by the Philippines before the United Nations to resolve the two Asian nations’ territorial rifts in the South China Sea and prevent a military conflict.

Although the E.U. says it does not take sides on the sea row involving the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, the European parliamentarians said they believe the Philippines’ legal action is a “good move” to enable a peaceful solution to the conflicts.

“The E.U. is on the side of the Philippines,” delegation chairman Werner Langen told a press conference.

“It is in the interest of all the EU states that through the adherence to international agreements we solve these questions and solve the question of natural resources.”

The E.U. lawmakers’ backing adds a crucial voice to the Philippine decision to initiate arbitration process under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to try to declare as “illegal” China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea, part of which is known in the Philippines as West Philippine Sea.

China has until February 21 to officially declare if it would get involved in the landmark case.

“The way chosen by the administration through arbitration is the way to do it,” Langen said.

”We hope China will accept this because it takes two to tango, to come to a solution.”

The lawmakers said they find unsettling and a “threat to international trade” what they call China’s “expansionist policy” in the region, including in the South China Sea, amid its rapid military build-up.

“We need here direct talks and also international talks in order to find a solution. Otherwise you will see an arms race going on in this part of the world and this is never good for humanity,” said delegation vice-chairman Robert Goebbels.

The delegation, headed by Langen, is on a five-day visit to the Philippines to see first-hand the economic and social developments in the country.

They held a series of meetings with their Philippine counterparts in Congress and various government officials, including Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Four members of Association of South East Asian Nations – Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia – have claims in the resource-rich waters. As a bloc, it has wanted to deal with the disputes as a regional group, a stance opposed by China, which wants bilateral negotiations to solve the overlapping claims without any international interference, specifically from its regarded regional military rival, the United States.

Manila has maintained that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes through a legal framework such as the UNCLOS.

UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.

China is citing historical entitlements as basis for its huge claims over the South China Sea, a strategic waterway dotted with islands, shoals, cays, reefs and rock formations and is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.

Many have feared the conflicts could be Asia's next flashpoint.

“The E.U. is very sympathetic to the Philippine claims and we see the way chosen by the administration to try to have this arbitration is a good one because that will force the Chinese to eventually accept arbitration,” Goebbels said. (PNA)



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