US senators blast China's use of force in sea disputes

By Jojo Malig,

Posted at Jun 13 2013 12:22 AM | Updated as of Jun 13 2013 08:35 AM

MANILA, Philippines - US senators have filed a resolution condemning China's use of threats and force in territorial disputes with other countries.

Senate Resolution 167, filed on Monday by Senators Robert Menendrez (Democrat, New Jersey), Marco Antonio Rubio (Republican, Florida), and Ben Cardin (Democrat, Maryland), also urges countries contesting ownership of parts of the West Philippine Sea and East China Sea to create and approve a code of conduct to avoid conflicts.

Menendez chairs the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, while Rubio is being touted as a possible Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 elections.

The resolution, which has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, cited many dangerous incidents involving Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea and the East China Sea.

These include Chinese vessels cutting the seismic survey cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in May 2011; Chinese vessels barricading the entrance to the Scarborough Reef lagoon in April 2012; China issuing an official map that defines its contested "9-dash line'' as China's national border; and, since May 8, 2013, Chinese naval and marine surveillance ships maintaining a regular presence in waters around the Second Thomas Shoal, located approximately 105 nautical miles northwest of Palawan.

It also cited a Department of State spokesperson expressing concern in 2012 over China's upgrading of the administrative level of Sansha City in the West Philippine Sea and the establishment of a new military garrison in the contested area.

The resolution added that in January 2013, a Chinese naval ship allegedly fixed its weapons-targeting radar on Japanese vessels near the Senkaku islands, and on April 23, 2013, 8 Chinese marine surveillance ships entered the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone off the Senkaku Islands, further escalating regional tensions.

The senators said Beijing recently took other unilateral steps, including declaring the Senkaku Islands a "core interest", "improperly drawing'' baselines around the Senkaku Islands, and maintaining a military presence around the islands that are under control by Japan.

The resolution is asking the US Senate to condemn "the use of coercion, threats, or force by naval, maritime security, or fishing vessels and military or civilian aircraft in the South China Sea and the East China Sea to assert disputed maritime or territorial claims or alter the status quo."

It urged all parties in the disputed areas to exercise self-restraint to prevent any acts in that would escalate tensions.

The resolution, which highlighted US interests in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the Asia-Pacific, urged member-states of ASEAN and China to develop a code of conduct of parties in the West Philippine Sea.

It said claimants in the West Philippine Sea should resolve disputes through processes that adhere to international law, including via international arbitration.
The resolution also supports the alliances forged by the US Armed Forces with other countries in the region to ensure peace.

Fil-Ams to protest China's Ayungin invasion

A group of Filipino-Americans, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday plans to launch a protest-rally on July 24 at the United Nations headquarters in New York to raise awareness on China's occupation of the Philippines' Ayungin Reef.

The reef is located just 105 nautical miles from Palawan and is found within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

"China seized the Philippines' Mischief Reef in 1994, then our Scarborough Shoal last year," said US Pinoys for Good Governance chairperson Loida Nicolas Lewis. "This year, China is set to invade and occupy the Ayungin Reef. This is unacceptable!"

Lewis, in a statement, said July 24 will mark the first year that China established its Sansha City Prefecture that covers more than 2 million square kilometers of the West Philippine Sea, including islands and reefs in the Spratlys that are within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile EEZ.

Sansha City is the subject of a Philippine diplomatic protest against China, according to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said the creation of the prefecture violated the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which aims to deter use of force and instead promote peace and self-restraint among countries claiming resource-rich territories in the region.

Ayungin dispute

According to the Philippine military, Chinese ships including a frigate and maritime surveillance vessels have been spotted in the vicinity of the Ayungin Shoal.

Military spokesman Major Ramon Zagala Jr., said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has no plans to confront the ships because it might aggravate the situation.

He said they will continue to monitor the ships' movements and defend the interests of the country through diplomatic means.

Zagala said Filipino troops stationed in the area have a constitutional duty to protect the country's territory.

The military has forwarded pictures and information of the exact locations of the Chinese ships in Philippine territory to Malacanang and the DFA.

The reef is considered the gateway to the Recto Bank, which the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates to contain 2.5 billion barrels of oil and 25.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Fewer than 10 personnel of the Philippine Marines are reportedly guarding the shoal.

The Palace said that taking the diplomatic approach in resolving does not contradict the government's desire to establish its "minimum credible defense posture" in protecting its territory.