Geng made the remarks in response to a reporter’s question on whether Chinese navy will send warships to patrol in the South China Sea following the April 10 standoff at the Scarborough Shoal or known to the Philippines as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc.
“Chinese armed forces have persisted in implementing their mission under the unified deployment of the nation,” he said, adding “the army, according to its tasks and responsibilities, will make joint efforts with fishery and maritime supervision departments in safeguarding national marine rights and interests.”
Dragging the United States into the country’s worsening tiff with China over a dispute on Scarborough Shoal may backfire as it could only further complicate the Philippines’ claims in the resource-rich area.
Senators, during a hearing conducted by the upper chamber’s foreign relations committee, were warned by one of the country’s experts on international law, said the government’s plan to seek support from the US might prompt the Chinese government in standing firm against any diplomatic resolution of the matter.
The US government is not a party to the issue and by dragging them into the picture would be “internationalizing” the matter, said former University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law Dean Merlin Magallona.
“The interest of the US is not the settlement of the dispute. As of a matter of fact, the intervention of the US will complicate the matter, as it (China) is now saying that the intervention of the US is siding with the Philippines in the dispute,” he told the panel chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda.
Magallona took note of the scheduled meeting of Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Sec. Albert del Rosario with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton over any possible assistance in dealing with the reported continuing bullying tactics of the Chinese government.
But Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said it cannot be helped if the issue has slowly being “internationalized” as tension continues to escalates.
Tensions flared anew this month when Manila accused Chinese fishermen of intruding and conducting illegal fishing in the Scarborough, located 140 nautical miles off the Philippine province of Zambales and well within its exclusive economic zone as outlined by international law. Philippine authorities were prevented by two Chinese government vessels from arresting the poachers, which eventually led to the standoff. China is also asserting claim over the shoal, a ring-shaped coral reef that has several rocks encircling a lagoon.
Two government vessels each from the Philippine and Chinese side are facing off in the area in the South China Sea while the number of fishermen from the rival countries varies daily while the two nations seek a quick solution to the deadlock.
Manila has repeatedly called on Beijing to respect its sovereign rights over the Scarborough and formally asked it, through a diplomatic note sent on Thursday, to join the country in bringing the territorial squabble for resolution before international arbitration, where it believes to have a strong case.
“This approach would resolve on a long-term basis any differences of position on the issue, and ensure a peaceful, stable and lasting bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
The ill-equipped Philippine military is no match to China’s, but Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario believes that justice can be dispensed equally through international law whether the protagonists are small nations or world powers.
China, on several occasions, verbally rebuffed Manila’s proposal, giving rise to speculations that it is not prepared to validate its far-reaching claims in the South China Sea.
Beijing is asserting ownership virtually over the entire resource-rich sea, which is home to more than 200 islands, rocks, reefs and coral outcrops, even as it overlaps with other nation’s maritime boundaries.
Competing claims to the South China Sea, a strategic waterway believed to be sitting atop huge gas and oil deposits, by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have sparked occasional violence and now regarded as a potential regional flashpoint for armed conflict.
Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin are meeting in Washington on Monday with US counterparts –Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Chief Leon Panetta – in a crucial dialogue that will extensively discuss a planned increase in American military activities in the Philippines amid the standoff.
Both sides are also expected to firm up discussions on Manila’s request for additional defense capabilities like radars, fighter jets and warships to secure its territorial borders, particularly in the South China Sea.
Beijing and Washington have also dueled over the sea disputes.
The US, Philippines’ military treaty ally, is not a party to the territorial row but has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure that the conflicts are resolved peacefully.
Washington also said it wants to ensure the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea amid the territorial problem.
But Beijing warned the US to stay away from the disputes, which it described as an Asian issue that should not involve outsiders like Washington.
Also on Friday, China called “irresponsible” the allegations by the Philippines that its embassy officials in Manila are relaying inaccurate information on the negotiations with Philippine officials to end the impasse to its headquarters in Beijing.
“The Chinese side is shocked by the DFA’s recent comments on Ambassador Ma Keqing’s allegedly incomplete, inaccurate and misleading relaying of information to Beijing,” said embassy spokesman Zhang Hua.
China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhang said, has made representations to the Philippine Embassy in Beijing to protest the Philippine accusation.
In defense of his ambassador, Zhang said the envoy had been “carrying out their duties faithfully and effectively” at the onset of the standoff.
The embassy in Manila, he added, has “worked tirelessly for the proper settlement of the pending issue between the two countries and the sound and stable development of bilateral relations.”
Outside the Philippines, Filipino groups are planning to stage simultaneous protests in several countries and capitals where China has an embassy to denounce its encroachment over the Scarborough on May 11.
Among those who pledged to join in the demonstrations are Filipino organizations from Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and Australia.
“A strong showing of support and solidarity by Filipinos…will impress on China that it is not just confronting a small country in that it can easily bully, but one that has citizens scattered throughout the world who can mobilize and galvanize public opinion against China,” said Rodel Rodis, leader of group, US Pinoys for Good Governance.
“Realistically speaking, if the dispute escalates, we cannot avoid internationalizing this. This is one reason why China will not dare fire on any military vessel in that area because we have an alliance with an equal superpower in the world,” Enrile said.
“If China makes the error of firing at us, it will come under the ambit of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT),” Enrile said, referring to the country’s defense pact with the US in which the American government committed to come to the rescue of the Philippines if its attacked by the Chinese armed forces.
“We have to invoke it (MDT) if necessary. When the ground is established, then we have to invoke it. Read the treaty. We have to protect the interest of the country although the methodologies are different. The sovereignty over the areas must be ascertained and that (MDT) will come into place,” he told reporters after the hearing.
“Of course, we cannot avoid bringing this issue to your allies. They (US) might be involved if something happens to their allies,” the Senate chief added.
Enrile said the Philippines should not only assert but intensify its claim over Scarborough shoal, expressing strong belief that the country has a strong case over China on this matter.
“We have to fight this not only militarily, which we do not have the capability of, but politically, in public opinion,” he said.
“Legally, I think we have a good case if this matter will be brought to the international forum. (And if China will not cooperate) that’s means they have weak position and that’s why they are using military boat,” he added.
Enrile reirated his position favoring a diplomatic resolution of the issue and in proving before an international court the country’s ownership of Scarborough shoal.
“Why the call not to internationalize the issue? Because politically, China will lose in this particular game. It shows it is not willing to submit itself to international conventions and customary international law in resolving its disputes. It will in time exert a pressure on China. We have to fight it politically.
“The move of the Philippine government is a good move to bring it to the highest international forum or the International Court of Justice to show that we abide by the rules of civilized international relations in settling international disputes. Let China show its real nature, if it does, of an expansionist government or society. I don’t think they would want that image in the world,” he said.
Legarda said the government should clarify the role of the US, should it decide to get into the picture, the moment that tension with China further escalates.
“The use of force should never be an option. My understanding is that the Philippines has not yet submitted at ICJ, ITLOS or any other reconciliatiory tribunal any petition but the DFA gave two note verbal sa Chinese embassy to China in our country.
“There is no problem that can be resolved in due time. It can be resolve in peaceful, diplomatic and even beyond through scienticists, technical exchanges. This goes beyond the military depending on ourselves,” Legarda said.
In the same hearing, senators were told that the row with China can still be resolved through a compulsory settlement provision under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“We believe so, the there is still a mechanism within the UNCLOS that we can use to peacefully settle the dispute but the details i am not in a position to divulge the details. There is still a window we can explore,” Atty. Henry Bensurto Jr., secretary general of the Commission on Maritime and Oceans Affairs of the DFA.
He, however, refused to divulge specific plan of action in solving the disute under a peaceful and legal framework as he is not in any position to do so.
“This is a matter i am not in a position to divulge. This matter at this point in time, perhaps the government will come up with the official statement but for the meantime we have to explore all legal aspect to solve the dispute, and bring this matter in a peaceful resolution,” he said.
But he said the Philippine government can use the compulsory settlement provision of the Part 15 of UNCLOS if China does not want to agree to settle the dispute in the Scarborough Shoal.
“China is a signatory and has ratified the UNCLOS, and they are bound with the provisions of the UNCLOS. If there is a violation of any provision of the UNCLOS, you can go the dispute settlement mechanism, under Part 15 of the UNCLOS.
“If China doesn’t agree, then we obviously we have to go back to the drawing board, and come up with an approach on these aspect and we have to continue we are putting our heads on these and we should not give up, and find a way that could peacefully settle the dispute, including the ability of the Philippines to bring China to some sort compulsorily dispute settlement even without its consent,” Bensurto further explained.
Bensurto said both the Philippines and China has signed and ratified the UNCLOS which both parties are bound with all the provision on the agreement without prescribing reservation to any part of the documents.
“UNCLOS is essentially a document signed and ratified by both party, and there for this is a framework to come to a vote that legal framework contained provision on disputes settlement, that we are trying to invoke with China, and to appeal obviously into a friendly way, bringing these matter before a tribunal or third party adjudication which is consistent with these settlements, one cannot argue that this one is not peaceful, but on the contrary this is part and parcel of peaceful settlement of disputes,” he said.
Under UNCLOS, he further said that there some menu of choice to settle the dispute. “You have International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), you have permanent arbitral tribunal and the special arbitral tribunal.”
“If China will not give it consent to bring them to bring this to a third party adjudication that the challenge we feel there is still a window that we can do that, but you don’t do things immediately you have to scale down and calibrate, because you want these to settle peacefully,” he said.
“There is still a mechanism even china does not want to. When i say third party adjudication, this is to distinguish all the four choices from consensual and bilateral negotiations. If we cannot agree, it is like you bring it to a court,” he said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa, meanwhile, said that diplomacy should be matched with defense capabilities for the country to attain stability and security amid the emerging challenges in the Asia Pacific Region.
In his statement during the closing ceremonies of the Balikatan joint exercises between AFP and United States troops, Dellosa stressed that the prevailing challenges in the Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific regions require “pragmatism and the use of smart power.”
“It is apparent that a practical blend of the concept of ‘might is right and ‘right is might’ should be explored, shared among friends and allies, and eventually put to good use,” said Dellosa.
Gerry Baldo, Mario J. Mallari