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China widens stake in disputed waters

Chinese vessels deployed to new areas in Kalayaan

There seems to be no stopping China from staking its claim in the entire South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

This after President Benigno Aquino III confirmed on Thursday that China has deployed ships capable of doing reclamation projects in Gavin Reef and Cuateron (Calderon) Reef, two areas in the disputed Kalayaan Island Group also known as Spratly Islands.

The fresh deployment came on the heels of China’s reclamation project in Mabini Reef, which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

“Based on the latest report that we have received, we are again bothered that there seems to be developments in other areas within the disputed seas,” the President said.

“Amongst them, there appears to be movement of ships—although we are not saying that they are exactly the same ships that were used in Mabini - but there seems to be similar ships at the very least in Gavin Reef and in Cuateron Reef (Calderon Reef),” he added.

Aquino said that based on the photos that were shown to him, the Chinese ships deployed in the two areas in KIG have the capacity to do reclamation projects.

The president also downplayed the impact of China’s decision not to participate in the ongoing arbitration case before the United Nations tribunal in The Hague.

The case seeks to declare China’s nine-dash line policy claiming almost the entire West Philippine Sea as illegal.

Aquino said even if China does not participate, the UN tribunal will still come up with a ruling, which he hopes will favor the Philippine position.

“There will be a decision: whose claim is right? Which part of whose claim is right? The decision will be out for the entire international community and that, hopefully, will clarify all of the disputes and will lead to a clear determination on the rights and obligations of each countries,” he added.

This developed as leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations had said they were deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea.

The G7 leaders meeting in Brussels warned against any use of force in the area, where the United States has warned Beijing over increasing territorial assertiveness.

“We are deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea,” the leaders said in a statement at the end of a first day of talks in the Belgian capital.

“We oppose any unilateral attempt by any party to assert its territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force.”

The statement did not mention any country by name but called on all countries to follow international law in resolving competing claims.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, said that the department could not confirm how many ships had been deployed in the two reefs as they have yet to see the reports on this.

Del Rosario said they have to clearly establish the report before they file another protest against China.

But he admitted that it is concerned about China’s alleged new “reclamation” in Gaven and Calderon reefs, saying that China has “effectively changed the status quo.”

The DFA chief, however, said they might not send ships in the area, because “we have ways of monitoring (the incident).”

Del Rosario said also agreed with Aquino’s view in the arbitration, as he said that it is not relevant if China refused to participate to the arbitration.

Del Rosario said that even without China’s participation from the hearing, the case before the Arbitral Tribunal will move forward.

He said that the Philippines had invited China “many times” to participate in the arbitration, but Beijing has repeatedly rejected the invitation and maintained that their sovereignty over the oil-resource-rich sea is “indisputable.”

“The decision for them not to participate is their own decision, and I think they taken a good look what serves their national interest,” he added.

Del Rosario said the arbitration will not only benefit the Philippines, but also China and other claimant-countries whose freedom of navigation is being jeopardized by Beijing’s claims.

The Philippines has submitted its memorial on March 31 this year while China was recently asked by the arbitral tribunal to send its counter-argument by December 15 this year.

The region is being claimed in whole by China, and in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Del Rosario said an arbitration is the last possible resort for the Philippines since it has exhausted all other means--political and diplomatic--to resolve the dispute and halt China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

In an event that the Arbitral Tribunal finally decides on the Philippines’ case and that China refused to follow international law, del Rosario said that “China as a world power would like to be respected and would like to be considered as a responsible state and in order for that to happen they must respect the rule of law”.

The tribunal in The Hague gave Beijing until Dec. 15 to reply to the Philippine motion.

Del Rosario, meanwhile, said that it appears that China does not want to expedite the conclusion of the Code of Conduct.

The DFA chief added that China, with an almost 1.3 billion population, is on an “expansion agenda” in the resource-rich region.”

Del Rosario said that the Philippines will continue to work “feverishly” with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for the implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct (DOC) and the conclusion of the COC. With AFP

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