The word war between the Philippines and China heats up anew as Beijing on Wednesday accused the Philippines of back-tracking on a previous commitment to resolve in a “step by step manner” the long-running territorial dispute in the resource-rich South China Sea.
In its latest rebuke against the Philippines, China, through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, said it finds “regrettable” that over recent years, “the Philippines has changed its attitude and approach in handling the issue.”
“The two sides reached the important consensus of carrying out cooperation in a step by step manner and resolving bilateral disputes through negotiations,” Hua said, adding both nations formerly enjoyed “sound cooperation.”
The Philippines is locked in a long-running dispute with China over portions of the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
China prefers to negotiate one on one with other claimants, which would give it advantage because of its sheer size compared to rival claimants, which are smaller and have less military force.
Hua cited the joint marine seismic undertaking or JMSU signed by China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Philippine National Oil Company during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo covering 142,886 square kilometers of the South China Sea, including areas within Philippine waters. The agreement later on included Vietnam.
The controversial agreement has met opposition from Philippine lawmakers and civil society groups, saying the government’s participation in the JMSU is tantamount to infringement of the Constitution as it allowed foreign nations to exploit the country’s exclusive economic zones in the Spratlys.
Hua maintained the agreement has made a “positive contribution to stability, cooperation and development of the South China Sea.”
The Philippines lamented that despite numerous attempts to resolve the territorial rift, Chinese incursions and creeping invasion in its territories facing the South China Sea have persisted.
Philippine officials said this prompted the country to resort to international arbitration to try to declare as illegal China’s nine-dash line, which covers nearly the entire waters and overlaps with the territories of other countries.
But to China, it was the Philippines that broke its commitment in the non-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, cast aside the framework of dialogue upheld by a majority of countries, and refused to cooperate.
"Aggravating the situation"
Beijing also blamed Manila for “aggravating the situation” in the South China Sea when it sent a military warship to arrest Chinese fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal last year.
Philippine officials said Scarborough Shoal or also known in the Philippines as Bajo de Masinloc falls within Manila’s territory as mandated by international law. China is insisting ownership of the area even it is far from its nearest landmass of Hainan province.
“It is difficult for China to understand how could the Philippines continue to play up the issue of the South China Sea, distort the facts and smear China,” Hua said.
Amid lingering tensions, Hua said China “has never closed the door to negotiation and consultation with the Philippines in the hope of improving and developing bilateral relations” but called on Manila “to correct its erroneous actions.”
It also urged the Philippines to agree to a China-proposed regular bilateral consultation mechanism on maritime issues and to consider bilateral negotiations. — KBK, GMA News