MANILA - The Philippines says it will back calls by the United States for a series of measures aimed at reducing tensions in the South China Sea during a regional security forum in Kuala Lumpur Wednesday. Washington wants countries to stop building artificial islands and carrying out military activities.
The Philippines is expected to raise the issue of China’s activities in the South China Sea during meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this week.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario released a statement Tuesday saying that his country would also endorse a U.S. call for stopping all work on disputed outcroppings and any military activities.
"As a means of de-escalating tensions in the region, the Philippines fully supports and will pro-actively promote the call of the United States on the 'three halts' — a halt in reclamation, halt in construction and a halt in aggressive actions that could further heighten tensions," Del Rosario said.
However, he said the Philippines back those measures only if other claimants, including China, do the same. And he said this does not mean that China’s island construction on at least seven outcroppings is legitimate.
In recent months the U.S. has been raising concerns over China’s project to convert reefs and shoals in the Spratlys into manmade islands.
“This has been the American position for what, almost two years now, saying that everyone should stop developing their particular areas that they hold,” explained Carl Baker, programs director at the Pacific Forum of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But everybody knows that this is really directed at China.”
China insists that ASEAN forums are not the place to raise these territorial disputes.
Beijing claimed nearly the entire South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims. The Philippines has filed a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration to question what it calls China’s “excessive claims” in the sea. China rejected the case and is not participating.
Baker does not foresee any change in the U.S. position and nor does he see a shift in China’s stance, especially since it already built the islands. He predicts that the standoff will “inhibit security cooperation” in Southeast Asia.
On Monday in Singapore, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, downplayed the concerns over Beijing’s island building, which has rapidly built airstrips and buildings on top of what were until recently mostly submerged rocks and reefs.
“At the moment the general situation in the South China Sea is stable, and China is steadfastly committed to working with the parties to maintain the situation which has not come easily. And we will never allow any country to destabilize the South China Sea," said Wang.
Wang made a pitch for peacefully resolving the disputes through “consultations and negotiations” among what he called “five commitment points” of China regarding the contested sea.