Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Philippines tells China: Respect our sovereignty

..THE Philippine government urged Monday its Chinese counterpart not to encroach into its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) amid the reported arrival of 30 Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Spratly Islands. In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Hernandez said the area is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone where the country exercises sovereignty. "The Chinese fishing vessels must not intrude in the EEZ of the Philippines. We require China to respect the sovereign rights of the Philippines over the resources within our EEZ," he said. Reports from the Xinhua news agency showed that the 30 fishing vessels -- the biggest fleet ever to be deployed in the area -- arrived near Yongshu Reef on the afternoon of July 15 after leaving the Chinese province of Hainan last Thursday. According to Xinhua, Chinese fishing boats regularly travel to the Spratlys, a potentially oil-rich archipelago, which China claims as part of its territory on historical grounds. The fleet includes a 3,000-ton supply ship and a patrol vessel, and will stay in the area in the next five or 10 days. The arrival of the fishing vessels came on the heels of the refloating also last Sunday of the Chinese naval frigate that ran aground at the Hasa-Hasa shoal, just 60 nautical miles off Palawan, which is also near the Spratlys. No diplomatic protest has yet been issued by the Philippines on the matter, however. As this developed, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met with US Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel Locklear, accompanied by US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas, at the DFA to discuss regional issues and developments at the West Philippine Sea (WPS). "We spoke about regional issues, bilateral issues. We talked about the WPS, the developments there. We also talked about the credible defense posture and also about the maritime domain awareness and the assistance that we’re seeking from them," del Rosario said. Del Rosario said, however, that there was no mention of spy planes, which President Benigno Aquino III earlier said the government would ask from the US, its biggest trade and military ally. Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia said the issue on the country's credible defense posture is still being discussed. "That is being discussed in terms of what we need, so there are ongoing discussion. We are looking at hardware, joint use, joint exercises. So those are part of the discussions," he said. The matter was first raised during the 2-Plus-2 bilateral meeting in the US last May among Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and US State Secretary Hilary Clinton and US Defense Secretary Leo Panetta, at the height of the maritime standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships at the contested Scarborough shoal, also on the WPS. During the two countries' consultations, the Philippines and the US agreed to enhance their defense and security engagements within the framework of the Mutual Defense Treaty that will allow them to more effectively address the current and emerging security challenges in a mutually beneficial manner. According to del Rosario, "the focal point of cooperation is to build a minimum credible defense posture for the Philippines, and increase our capacity for territorial defense, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief." China said it has sovereign rights to all the South China Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, including areas close to the coastlines of other countries and hundreds of miles from its own landmass. Other countries such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia also have overlapping claims in the area. (JCV/Sunnex)