(Updated 2:40 p.m.) – A visiting US congressional delegation expressed support on Tuesday to the Philippine government’s decision to take long standing territorial disputes with China before a United Nations arbitration body.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta said the five-man US delegation led by Congressman Edward Royce (Republican, California), chairman of the House committee on Foreign Affairs, “expressed their full support” to Manila’s efforts “to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner and in accordance to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
“There were some discussion on the details of our actions and they were very interested in the merits of our arguments. They’re very supportive of it,” Sorreta told reporters after the group met Philippine officials led by Secretary Albert del Rosario at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The US lawmakers’ backing is among the first foreign expression of support to the Philippine government’s filing last week of an arbitration case before the UN to try to declare China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea, part of which is known as West Philippine Sea.
China has yet to officially declare if it would get involved in the landmark case, Sorreta said.
From Manila, the US delegation will proceed to Beijing and would likely discuss the territorial disputes with Chinese officials, Sorreta said.
Other members of the US delegation are Representatives Tom Marino (Republican, Pennsylvania), Eliot Engel (Democratic, New York), Vern Buchanan (Republican, Florida), and Matt Salmon (Republican, Arizona).
“They are very, very interested in the issue. They asked us, they asked the Secretary for details and the Secretary briefed them. They are very interested in the peaceful resolution of this issue,” Sorreta said.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia, who was present at the meeting, said Del Rosario explained to the US lawmakers that Manila needed to go on a legal track because the country’s efforts at diplomacy and moves to settle it through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), “have not yielded any results.”
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.
Alarmed by China’s expansionist moves, which the Philippines called “unlawful” and “invalid,” the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III took a bold step last week when it elevated its long-standing maritime rift with Beijing before the UN.
China is citing historical entitlements as basis for its huge claims over the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is dotted with islands, shoals, cays, reefs and rock formations and is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. It is claimed in part or in whole by China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
The resource-rich waters is an international waterway where more than 50 percent of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage pass each year.
Many have feared the conflicts could be Asia’s next flashpoint. —KG, GMA News