MANILA — The Philippines has filed two more diplomatic protests with Beijing about territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The action marks the 12th time the Philippines has lodged a formal protest since this spring’s tense standoff at a shoal claimed by both countries.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs says it has formally protested China’s creation of an official district charged with governing three island groups including the Spratlys in the South China Sea. Some of the islands, which Beijing says fall under the authority of Sansha City, are also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
In its latest protests, filed Tuesday, the Philippines expressed opposition to a planned military outpost in Sansha and objected to the presence of at least 30 vessels on a fishing expedition among reefs it claims in the Spratlys.
Department of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Raul Hernandez says the department is recording and documenting every reported intrusion by China into its waters. “We believe that these are provocative actions at this time, when we have already the DOC and people have been talking about implementing the DOC,” he said.
The Declaration on the Code of Conduct of the parties in the South China Sea is a non-binding document signed by China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It emphasizes exercising self-restraint and seeking resolution through peaceful means - particularly in dealing with disputes in a region with busy shipping lanes, potentially huge oil and gas reserves and abundant fishing. Although the DOC is not enforceable, Hernandez says the ASEAN members have agreed to follow its guidelines.
Earlier this month, at the ASEAN regional forum, many countries including the United States hoped for agreement on a more binding set of rules. U.S. State Department officials said China indicated it was amenable to start talks on the matter in September.
China has maintained it prefers to deal with claimant countries one on one, not through a multinational venue like ASEAN. But some countries like the Philippines are airing their grievances via international means, calling for adherence to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Hernandez says Manila’s practice of filing multiple protests will help the Philippines be heard.
“The protests are very important, even if they don’t immediately reap benefits for us, because that way we are able to tell the world that we don’t accept such activities done by the other side on our territory and on the maritime domain that we should be enjoying,” said Hernandez.
Calls to the Chinese Embassy in Manila were not immediately answered Tuesday.
The recent flurry of protests from Manila started in April, when Manila says Chinese fishing vessels poached endangered species near a shoal that is well within its territory. It says Scarborough Shoal just west of Zambales province, falls within the 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone designated by international law to be part of a country’s territory. China claims practically the entire sea, based on ancient maps.
During his annual national address Monday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino emphasized the country will continue to push its claim for the shoal. He also highlighted increased military spending on more hardware and an additional Hamilton-class cutter, expected to arrive from the United States early next year.