The overlapping claims to the South China Sea. Source: Flickr
Manila has urged Beijing to respect an arbitration court’s ruling in The Hague on the South China Sea territorial dispute after China accused the archipelago of “political provocation”. The news comes as the Philippines signed a defence deal with another nation threatened by China’s maritime ambitions, Japan.
Beijing is refusing to recognise the Philippines’ tribunal case, saying disputes should be resolved through bilateral talks. China has also used its allies within Asean, like Cambodia, to block any attempt by the 10 members to establish a unified policy on the South China Sea.
“The Philippines, as well as the international community, is asking China to respect the forthcoming ruling of the arbitral tribunal and together advance an international rules-based regime,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said. “If China does not heed our collective call, does it mean that China considers itself above the law?”
The tribunal’s ruling was expected before May, del Rosario said. Manila and Beijing had met several times to discuss territorial disputes without finding any resolution, he added.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a US visit last week, accused the Philippines of “political provocation” in seeking arbitration to resolve the dispute.
Wang held talks last week with his US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, who claimed China was rapidly militarising the region by building artificial islands and deploying fighter jets and air-defence missiles.
Wang described the process as self-defence but said it would hold bilateral talks with any nation with a claim to the South China Sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the disputed waters, through which an estimated US$5 trillion in trade passes every year.
Japan has signed a defence agreement with the Philippines, the first deal of its kind in the region.
Philippines Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the agreement he signed with the Japanese ambassador to Manila, Kazuhide Ishikawa, would allow the two states to carry out joint research and development projects.
What military hardware would be supplied would be agreed at subsequent meetings, Gazmin said, adding that surveillance aircraft would be supplied.
“This agreement would really substantiate the Philippines and Japan being strategic partners,” Gazmin said. “Let me stress that what underpins this agreement is not only our desire to enhance our respective defence capabilities but also to contribute to regional peace and stability.”
Japan, which has its own territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea, is apparently ready to lease at least five TC-90 King Air planes to the Philippines as a training aircraft for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The Philippines has expressed interest in acquiring used Japanese P3C-Orion planes after it started using the sophisticated P1 surveillance aircraft, the equivalent of the US Navy’s P8 Poseidon.