US State Department official: China has no lawful claim in West PH Sea

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 30 2022 11:23 PM

A vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard sails close to the Philippines' BRP Malabrigo in the disputed Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on March 2, 2022. Courtesy: Philippine Coast Guard Facebook page/screengrab
A vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard sails close to the Philippines' BRP Malabrigo in the disputed Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on March 2, 2022. Courtesy: Philippine Coast Guard Facebook page/screengrab

MANILA – The United States reiterated China “has no lawful claim” in areas judged by the arbitral tribunal to be part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf following the recent maneuverings of the Chinese Coast Guard close to Philippine Coast Guard vessels off Scarborough Shoal.

Describing the situation in the South China Sea as “ground zero for strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific” and “test for international rules based order,” visiting Department of State Counselor Derek Chollet also stressed the need for the US and Philippines to continue sharing information and coordinating responses to China’s use of “leverage” to coerce the Philippines or others in the disputed waters.

“Our view has been very clear that the PRC has no lawful claim to the area determined by the arbitral tribunal to be part of the Philippines, to the Philippines EEZ and continental shelf. We recognize the sovereign rights and the jurisdiction under the UN Law of the Sea treaty of the Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank,” Chollet said.

Chollet met with Philippine officials in Manila where he underscored the US commitment to Southeast Asia and the US-Philippines alliance, particularly its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Chollet reiterated US commitment to its obligations under the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty and find ways to “to refine and strengthen” the security relationship, ensuring that the defense relationship remains “relevant to current challenges.”

“We’ve been very clear that we stand by our Philippine allies and we will uphold Article IV of our Mutual Defense Treaty and we very much reject Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, their coercion, their attempts to create facts on the ground, facts on the water as well and we will uphold our commitments to one another,” Chollet said.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to cooperate so closely day in and day out whether sharing information or coordinating on our responses because we have a collective interest in ensuring that Philippines’ rights in the South China Sea are defended.”

UKRAINE

President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer for the US to use Philippine facilities in an emergency situation if tensions between Russia and Ukraine spill over to the region “came up in passing” in Chollet’s meeting, saying it was discussed “generally within the context of what the Philippines can do to help alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Ukraine.”

Chollet said the US looks forward to the Philippines’ role in the reconstruction in Ukraine when the war ends.

"There’s also gonna be a lot of work ahead in the reconstruction of Ukraine, whenever this war ends and it will end one day. I believe the Ukrainian people will prevail. We, the United States, the international community will be there for them, to help them rebuild their country. We very much look forward to the Philippines’ part in that effort, working alongside the United States and other key partners,” Chollet said.

The US also welcomed the Philippines’ vote in the United Nations General Assembly for a resolution seeking an end to the conflict and the protection of civilians in Ukraine.

The West’s sanctions against Russia were also discussed in Chollet’s meeting with the Philippine side.

“Many, many countries have joined the United States and our European partners in imposing sanctions on Russia for its unjustified and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. This is not a problem for Ukraine or a problem for Europe,” Chollet said.

“This is a problem for the world because the issues at stake here: state sovereignty, the idea that large countries cannot choose to invade smaller countries by force to get what they want, those are principles that all of us need to cherish and uphold so we very much welcome the Philippine government and their support on this issue in the UN General Assembly, in two very consequential votes where the balance of the world has made clear that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are completely unacceptable and Russia has to be made accountable for these actions.”

PH ELECTIONS

Chollet won’t comment specifically on the candidates in the May 2022 Philippine elections or the Marcos cases in the US, only saying that the US looks forward to working with the next administration as he expressed optimism that Philippine-US bilateral relationship will endure.

“The United States very much looks forward to working with the next administration, whomever may win the election. Presidents come and go on both sides of our relationship. President Biden is still a relatively new president with a year and a half in office. But what endures and what has endured for the last 76 years is our close bilateral partnership, rooted in our common interest and common values,” Chollet said.

“Whoever the winner is we look forward to working closely with them and we will engage early and often with the new leadership here in Manila.” 

US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Heather Variava said the Embassy is working with Comelec to field Embassy teams in the elections to participate in the poll agency’s observation programs, adding that some civil society organizations are also interested in coming to the Philippines to observe the elections.