PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III said the Philippines has no intention to provoke a military confrontation with China, after challenging its claims over the West Philippine Sea in a formal pleading before the United Nations tribunal in The Hague.
“We are not here to challenge China or to provoke them into any action. But I do believe that they should recognize that we have the right to defend our own interests,” Aquino said.
The President said he is duty-bound under the Constitution to defend the country’s territory.
“I subscribed to this oath when I assumed office. I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty,” he said.
Aquino said the arbitration before the UN tribunal in The Hague is part of “peaceful and rules-based” efforts to resolve the territorial dispute.
“We went through arbitration primarily because that is a means to resolve the dispute consistent with the policy of seeking peaceful resolution and in conformity with the international law,” he said.
The President also commended the successful delivery of supplies to the Philippine Marines stationed on Ayungin Shoal over the weekend following a standoff with the Chinese coastguard.
“I cannot tell the Chinese government what to do. But perhaps in the reverse, would they have acted differently?”
“If they are the smaller country, they are the less militarily capable, will they willingly just forgo their interests here? I don’t think so,” the President added.
In a commentary, the state-run Xinhua News Agency accused Manila of shutting the door to a negotiated solution by filing for international arbitration.
“The legal ploy, though carefully designed, is doomed to failure. By portraying itself as a victim ‘bullied’ by China and crying for legal remedies, Manila’s ulterior motive is to gain international sympathy for its groundless claim sue,” the Xinhua commentary said.
It repeated Chinese claims that the Philippines had encroached on territories that belonged to China for many years under its nine-dash line policy.
“From the perspective of procedure, China has already made a statement in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 2006, pointing out that relevant disputes do not apply to arbitration procedure.
“Beijing has a legitimate right under international law to reject the call for such arbitration, which renders Manila’s legal attack futile,” Xinhua said.
The Philippines’ memorial, about 4,000 pages long, was electronically transmitted on Sunday afternoon to The Hague where a five-member tribunal operating under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will hear Manila’s complaint.
China’s claims over the strategically important South China Sea, believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves, overlap those of the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
The Philippine case argues that China’s claims cover areas as far as 870 nautical miles (1,611 kilometers) from the nearest Chinese coast, and are thus illegal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said that they also included a report on the incident on Ayungin Shoal.
“Earlier this month, the Philippines amended its statement of claim to include Ayungin Shoal as one of the items, subject of the claims and the arbitration,” Jardeleza said, adding that the shoal is within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Jardeleza on Monday urged all claimant countries to take a position similar to Manila’s against what he called Beijing’s excessive claims.
“We continue to hope that our neighboring countries who have a similar stake in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea will take a position similar to us,” Jardeleza said.
Along with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Japan also have territorial disputes with China.
Ateneo University professor and foreign affairs analyst Richard Heydarian said there is a possibility that Vietnam and Japan may rally behind the Philippines now that the case has been filed before the UN.
In this manner, China might be pressured to explore a diplomatic compromise with the Philippines, he said.
On the other hand, he said the Philippine decision could bring the country into “a dangerous stage of confrontation.”
“Much will depend on how we translate our legal battle into a springboard to politically pressure China to uphold its commitment to UNCLOS, and DOC under the auspices of ASEAN. Military support from
external partners such as the US will also be crucial in preventing a limited war with China,” he added.
US embassy deputy spokesperson Marie Harf reaffirmed Washington’s support for using peaceful means to resolve maritime disputes “without fear of any form of retaliation.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China will not accept any decision by the UN tribunal.
“China will not accept international arbitration filed by the Philippines on the South China Sea,” Hong said in a statement.
On Monday, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, said they would be ready to defend the country’s territorial sovereignty from Chinese aggression.
“We are willing to offer our lives if China attacks us,” said National Democratic Front spokesman Jorge Madlos.
The statement came after criticism that the communists were soft on China.
Madlos again criticized US intervention in Philippine affairs, however.
“While the US is comparatively different from China in terms of foreign intervention, it doesn’t mean that we will not defend the country in case China will invade us,” Madlos said.