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Nations rally for PH on WPS

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US tells China to cease harassment in SCS, envoys back arbitral ruling

The United States urged China on Wednesday to comport its maritime claims over the South China Sea and cease “harassment” of state vessels laying claim to the disputed area, which includes islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the US State Department, said the US government reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea.

“We continue to urge Beijing to comport its maritime claims with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention; cease its routine harassment of claimant state vessels lawfully operating in their respective exclusive economic zones; halt its disruption to states’ sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage natural resources; and end its interference with the freedoms of navigation and overflight of states lawfully operating in the region,” the US official said.

“We will continue working with allies and partners to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is at peace and grounded in respect for international law,” Miller said.

WPS VICTORY DAY. Ambassadors of different countries stand on stage in a forum in Makati to mark the seventh anniversary of an international arbitral ruling that voided China’s historical claims to the South China Sea, including the nine-dash line. AFP

Meanwhile, ambassadors from Australia, Japan, the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, and India on Wednesday recognized the importance of the legal victory the Philippines won seven years ago in its territorial dispute with China.

At a forum to mark the anniversary of the ruling, the envoys rejected acts of intimidation and coercion and spoke of efforts to build stronger maritime defense cooperation with the Philippines and other like-minded states in the Indo-Pacific region.

These include defense exercises, increased regional presence, regular ship and frigate visits, training, and the provision of equipment and patrol vessels for Manila.

They stressed the ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration was final and legally binding.

They also paid tribute to the late former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario, who spearheaded the successful arbitration case that resulted in the 2016 legal victory for the Philippines.

Australian Ambassador Hae Kyong Yu cited Australia’s continued work with the Philippines to ensure that the 2016 arbitral ruling is “properly implemented” and “properly followed.”

“Today is a really important day, not just for the Philippines, but for the whole world. Australia is a long-standing [and] strong partner to the Philippines. We want to work with the Philippines to ensure that the 2016 arbitral award is properly implemented and properly followed,” the Australian envoy said.

Asked to comment on this continued aggression, Yu said this should notstop the Philippines from cooperating with others and “working for what it believes in.”

“What that means is that we cannot give up, we have to remain united and work together to create the region that we want to live in. Yes, it has been seven years and unfortunately, we are still [seeing] the behaviors we do not want to see, but that is not a reason to stop cooperating and stop working for what we believe in,” she said.

European Union Ambassador to the Philippines H.E Luc Veron said the EUis one with the Philippines and various international partners in stressing the importance of upholding maritime law.

“We are one with the Philippines and other international partners instressing the importance of upholding international law, includingUNCLOS, and a peaceful settlement of disputes as the basis for peace and stability in this part of the world and elsewhere. Respect for rules based on international order is at the core of the EU approach towards cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“The EU also stands ready to facilitate activities which help build confidence and prevent and diffuse tensions,” he added.

France’ envoy acknowledged the victory of the Philippines in its arbitral battle last 2016 with China.

“There is simply no alternative to the strict adherence to the rule of law. In that regard, through the 2016 Award, the Philippines upheldthe highest standards,” Ambassador Michèle Boccoz said during her speech at the Forum in Manila Polo Club Japan has also expressed its interest in implementing the freedom of navigation in the highly contested waters of the WPS.

“Japan is a major stakeholder with an outstanding interest in the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko said in his speech.

“Japan has reiterated that the tribunal award is the final and legallybinding on the parties to dispute under the provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We also reiterated our support to the Philippines’ commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea,” he added.

But seven years after the historic ruling, Chinese fishing vessels,Coast Guard and navy ships as well as numerous militia vessels continue to swarm in Philippine waters.

India’s Ambassador Shambhu Kumaran said the arbitral award is a reflection of the broader approach that both India and ASEAN have taken.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo welcomed the “growing number”of countries backing the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea as Manila commemorated on Wednesday the 7th anniversary of the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea.

Manalo stressed that the award already “settled the status of historicrights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.”

Manalo’s observation came as several nations—including the United States, United Kingdom, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden—have openly supported the Philippines’ territorial integrity over the water that is being unilaterally and illegally claimed by China.

“The award has since facilitated the plotting of new paths and trajectories, reflecting the rich maritime heritage of our country and our people, firm in the conviction that our rights over our maritime jurisdictions are indisputable,” Manalo said.

Manalo said the Philippines is honored that the award is now standing “as a beacon whose guiding light serves all nations.” He also tookpride in the “path of principle” that the country took when it decided to file a case for arbitration against China to peacefully settle the dispute.

“It is a settled landmark and a definitive contribution to theprogressive development of international law. It is ours as much as it is the world’s,” he said.

In a separate statement, Japan renewed its objection to illegal maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said China’s refusal to accept the 2016 Arbitral Award “is against the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law” and the UNCLOS as well as “undermines the rule of law as a fundamental value of the international community.”

“Japan reiterates its strong opposition to unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion,” Yoshimasa said.

British Ambassador Laure Beaufils vowed that the UK would play its part in ensuring a free Indo-Pacific by “standing up for what we believe in,” particularly for the international law-based maritime order.”

“We will continue to demonstrate our support and stand up with the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-aggression. We will continue to oppose any action that raises tension,” Beaufils said.

US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson stressed the need for all countries to adhere to rules-based international order— “a system that benefits all nations, small, medium, or large.”

Paying tribute to late Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario whom she described as a “great Philippine diplomat,” Carlson lauded him for initiating the July 7, 2015 arbitration case against China, emphasizing that “international law allows the weak to challenge the powerful on equal footing, and that right prevails over might.”

“Like the Philippines, the United States believes that all countries, large and small, should play by the same rules and that large countries should not be allowed to bully smaller ones,” Carlson said, without referring to China.

Acknowledging that the Philippines is the US oldest treaty ally in East Asia, Carlson said: “Age has not dimmed the vitality of our relationship. To this day, the ironclad U.S.-Philippine Alliance provides a strong framework for how we work together to address common threats.”

“Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have seen increasing threats to the region. These include challenges to the rules-based international order via provocations in the South China Sea. In

February, for example, the Chinese Coast Guard used a laser device against the crew of a Philippines Coast Guard vessel. And two months later, a China Coast Guard ship then blocked a Philippine patrol vessel with a group of journalists onboard, in the vicinity of the Second Thomas Shoal. Just a few weeks ago, the Philippine Coast Guard reported an unsafe maneuver conducted by a China Coast Guard vessel,” Carlson said.

She said such provocations, in addition to threatening freedom of navigation and overflight, have other consequences, including increased environmental degradation, reduced energy security, and a less stable investment climate, all of which directly and negatively affect lives and livelihoods.

In a joint statement, 16 European countries supported the Philippines in asserting its sovereignty over the disputed waters.

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