PHL to Taiwan: Don’t increase tensions in the South China Sea
Members of Bayan Muna hold a picket in front of Chinese consulate in Makati on Friday April 17 to protest against China’s reclamation activities in Panganiban Reef, part of the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea. Recent satellite pictures showed the Chinese constructing facilities in the area. (MNS Photo)
MANILA, Jan 28 (Mabuhay) – In a rare comment concerning Taiwan, the Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday expressed its opposition to outgoing Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to Itu Aba off the disputed South China Sea.
“We remind all parties concerned of our shared responsibility to refrain from actions that can increase tension in the South China Sea,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement on Ma’s trip that came amid lingering concerns over the waters where China has rapidly transformed formerly submerged disputed rocks into huge man-made islands.
The DFA normally do not comment on issues related to Taiwan since Manila and Taipei have no formal diplomatic ties in deference to the One-China Policy.
Taiwan separated from mainland China in 1949, but Beijing considers it as its renegade province.
Ma’s visit to Itu Aba, called Taiping by Taiwan, was a bid to reaffirm its claim over the island – the largest feature in the South China Sea equipped with modern facilities like a hospital, runway and a lighthouse.
There was no immediate comment from Taiwan’s representative office in Manila.
Washington, a Taiwan ally, also criticized the trip, with the State Department, calling it a “disappointment.”
Competing claims by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have led to occasional flareouts, with analysts saying that the resource-rich waters could spark military conflict if overlapping territorial conflicts are not resolved.
Of all the six claimants, China and Taiwan harbor the most ambitious claims, asserting ownership of over 90 percent of the waters where a bulk of the world’s trade pass.
However, China is more aggressive, interfering with the economic activities of its neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam in their exclusive economic zones.
China has also rapidly expanded its claim, building seven artificial islands, installed with runways and buildings. Beijing admitted that these facilities would have military purposes, fueling fears from countries like the US, Japan and the Philippines that Beijing has plans of restricting freedom of navigation and flight over the sea.
The Philippines challenged China’s assertion before an arbitration court in The Hague, Netherlands to try to invalidate Beijing’s massive claim. A final decision is expected in the first half of the year. (MNS)