Japanese and Philippine lawmakers in Manila signed an informal agreement Wednesday to form an international body promoting peaceful means to settle disputes in waters where they have competing claims with China.
Members of the two congressional delegations have agreed to push for a “Parliamentarians’ League for Maritime Security in Asia” within their respective legislative bodies. They stress settling territorial disputes and clarifying claims based on international law.
Japan's Representative Hiroshi Nakada led six of his fellow-party members in a visit to the Philippines. Through an interpreter, he reiterated their pitch for avoiding “force or coercion” in staking claims and not doing anything unilaterally that would upset the status quo.
“All of these items are things that nobody in our world, nobody in humanity would likely go against. These are things that we all adhere to as human beings,” Nakada said.
Japan and China have a long-running squabble over a group of rocks called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea. Tensions between the two countries have steadily intensified in recent years after the Japanese government bought part of the grouping from a private owner. Chinese government ships have been active in the surrounding waters ever since. In November last year, China declared the area above the islands an air defense identification zone, compelling all craft to follow Beijing’s rules when flying there.
The United States military does not recognize the zone and Japan ignores it.
China has sweeping claims in the South China Sea, stating it has “indisputable sovereignty” over more than 80 percent of those resource-rich waters. The Philippines accuses China of encroaching on formations it says are clearly within its exclusive economic zone. In 2012 China all but took control of Scarborough Shoal, keeping Philippine fishermen out.
In recent months, Philippines surveillance photos have shown Chinese reclamation activity on at least four reefs and shoals that the Philippines claims.
Manila filed a case last year with the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague questioning Beijing’s claim to nearly all of the sea. Beijing rejects arbitration and has not responded to the case.
Thirteen members of the Philippine House and the six representatives from Japan signed on to the campaign for the multinational league, but they are all acting individually, not in their capacities as congressmen.
“I emphasize that we need to do this campaign to raise the awareness of nations that there must be a resolution to the dispute and this resolution must be in accordance with the provisions of international law,” said Philippine Congressman Rodolfo Biazon, who heads the House Committee on National Defense and Security.
Apart from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims in the South China Sea. In 2002, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China signed a non-binding agreement to keep things peaceful in the sea. But China, which prefers one-on-one meetings to sort out claims, has been slow to act. It only recently called for implementing the terms of the non-binding agreement. Work on a legally binding code of conduct on managing competing claims has been slow-going.
The lawmakers say they hope to get the parliaments of other countries to sign on to the body. Hiroshi says the Japanese delegation is looking at Vietnam as another potential signatory to its campaign.