'Sea row should not weaken PH-China ties'

By Alexis Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Aug 04 2012 01:25 AM | Updated as of Aug 05 2012 02:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea should not weaken the country’s ties with China, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said this week.

Speaking during the 85th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Makati last Tuesday, Gazmin also said international law should be the basis for resolving the dispute.

Gazmin told diplomats and military officials of China that other aspects of bilateral ties could still be pursued amid the territorial row.

“While our two countries are faced with difficult challenges, we both share the view that these should not undermine the overall relationship of our two countries, as we both search for a political and diplomatic means to resolve our differences, with international law as our common basis and framework,” he said.

Gazmin reiterated his commitment to keep his communication lines open to his Chinese counterpart.

“Our presence in this celebration manifests our commitment to keep the lines of communication open between our defense establishments, as agreed upon during my bilateral meeting with Defense Minister Liang Guanglie,” he said.

“I believe that our governments, our peoples and our armed forces have enough goodwill which we should all utilize to further our bilateral relations amidst these difficult times.”

Gazmin said he is optimistic the Philippine and Chinese militaries would promote stability in the region.

“Let me acknowledge the continued engagement of our Armed Forces with the People’s Liberation Army, as both forces work together for peace and stability in our region,” he said.

The Philippines is claiming several islets, shoals, reefs and sandbars in the Spratly Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

China claims virtually all of the West Philippine Sea, while Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping territorial claims.

Meanwhile, a joint exploration between the Philippines and China can very well be the best option to resolve the dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), an expert for territorial disputes said yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of the Angara Centre yesterday, Yas Banifatemi said joint development is a practical solution that has shown effectivity in the past.

She cited, for example, the dispute between Timor Leste and Australia which ended up in a joint development program.

“(This) eventually... gave life to the treaty... which basically is the joint development program which the states accepted without prejudice to the dispute in boundaries,” she said.

She said the recommendations to bring in the United Nations’ Security Council to guard the disputed waters may not be a good idea. – With Christina Mendez