Germany on Thursday backed the Philippines’ call for the settlement of disputes in the South China Sea through international law, a position long frowned on by China, which claims the resource-rich waters nearly in its entirety.
While Germany says it does not take sides to the sea row involving the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on claimants to resolve their overlapping claims peacefully.
“We appeal to all sides to resolve all the questions in accordance with international law and in a peaceful and cooperative way,” Westerwelle told a news conference.
Westerwelle’s statement adds an important voice to a Philippine move 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 yet to officially declare if it would get involved in the landmark case, and has repeatedly said it wants to resolve the conflict through bilateral negotiations.
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, which is 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.
“I think all countries in the region have an interest in a stable and peaceful development and this is the position the German government takes,” Westerwelle said.
“The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Chinese economies are closely linked by a free trade agreement and this shows us everyone gains from cooperation and not confrontation.” —KG, GMA News