'Claimants should clarify sea claims'

by Pia Lee-Brago, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 09 2014 11:43 AM | Updated as of Mar 09 2014 07:43 PM

MANILA - The Philippines and the United States expressed concern over the ambiguity and potential breadth of some claims in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and agreed on the importance of all claimants clarifying their territorial and maritime claims.

In a joint statement, the Philippines and the US underscored that “maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features in accordance with the international law of the sea, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The joint statement came out at the conclusion of the fourth Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held on March 6-7 in Washington.

Manila and Washington expressed concern over recent developments in the South China Sea, and emphasized the importance of upholding peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce and freedom of navigation and overflight.

The two sides reiterated that international disputes in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with international law and through diplomatic or other peaceful means, such as through the use of arbitration.

Both sides are hopeful of an expeditious conclusion of a meaningful Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.

They opposed unilateral measures seen as altering the status quo and escalating tensions in the region. Both Manila and Washington called on all parties to exercise self-restraint.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said early this month that the US is not a party to the COC that ASEAN and China will adopt.

He said the US should be considered an interested party because of Washington’s interest in freedom of navigation in the air and sea.
Goldberg emphasized putting forward a COC and “rules-based solution” that should come to the fore, saying coercion and use of force are not at all the permissible route.

The Philippines also expressed its appreciation for assistance to be provided under the Global Security Contingency Fund, which focuses on Philippine maritime security, law enforcement and counter-terrorism training and capacity building.

During the dialogue, the Philippines and the US reaffirmed their commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, discussed actions that would further invigorate and expand their partnership in the spirit of the November 2011 Manila Declaration, and decided to expand cooperation in the areas of maritime domain awareness, disaster response preparedness, law enforcement and nonproliferation.

Both sides also welcomed the current negotiations on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and expressed optimism for a successful conclusion.

The US reiterated its sympathies over the tragic loss of life and devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda. The Philippines in turn expressed its deep appreciation for US assistance in the aftermath of the storm.

Manila also thanked Washington for its efforts to help the Filipino people and the Philippine government rebuild and reconstruct devastated areas.

Both countries resolved to strengthen their joint cooperation and training in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, including exploring ways to streamline processes further in the event of natural disasters.

The two sides reaffirmed their support for United Nations peacekeeping operations. The two countries agreed on the indispensable role of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights toward maintaining regional peace and stability and resolved to continue exploring ways to ensure the mission’s success, including enhancing the safety and security of UN peacekeepers, including the Philippine contingent.

The Philippines and the US also decided to deepen economic ties through the Partnership for Growth, the Philippines’ compact with the Millennium Challenge Corp., and bilateral Agreement on Scientific and Technology Cooperation, including more academic and student exchanges.

They agreed to make progress on trade and investment issues in the context of the next Trade and Investment Framework Agreement meeting later this month.

The meeting recognized Philippine government efforts and achievement in the protection of labor rights and improvement of aviation safety.

The two sides discussed cooperative activities in the area of law enforcement, including combating money laundering and cybercrime, anti-corruption, and the rule of law in the Philippines.

The meeting also acknowledged efforts of the Philippine government efforts to promote and protect human rights and prevent trafficking in persons, and to increase prosecution of human rights violations and enhance measures addressing human rights issues.