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Manila calls for construction freeze in South China Sea

MANILA — The Philippines yesterday said China’s “expansion agenda” in the disputed waters of the South China Sea threatened security and stability in the region, calling on all claimant states to halt construction activities that might raise tensions.

MANILA — The Philippines yesterday said China’s “expansion agenda” in the disputed waters of the South China Sea threatened security and stability in the region, calling on all claimant states to halt construction activities that might raise tensions.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he supported the proposal of Mr Daniel Russel, United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, for China and South-east Asian states to get together for dialogue.

“I think we would use the international community to step up and say we need to manage the tensions in the South China Sea before they get out of hand,’’ Mr Del Rosario said.

He said he would propose the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) call for such a moratorium.

“Let’s call for a moratorium in terms of activities that escalate tension,” Mr Del Rosario told ANC Television yesterday. “Now, let’s do that while we work on an expeditious conclusion of the Code of Conduct and effective implementation.”

The Foreign Affairs Secretary said China and other claimant states have been rushing construction activities in the respective claimed territories for expansion reasons, citing works in Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson South Reef, Gaven Reef and Cuarteron Reef.

“They’re accelerating their expansion agenda for the following reasons ... one is they want to do this before the conclusion of the Code of Conduct. They’re also trying to do this very quickly in anticipation of the handing down of the tribunal award.”

South-east Asian states have been pressing China to conclude a Code of Conduct — a set of rules governing naval actions — for the South China Sea.

Last year, the Philippines filed a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to clarify its rights to explore and exploit resources under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. China has refused to participate in the case.

Ms Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said China had a right to do what it wanted on its islands in the South China Sea as they were Chinese territory.

She also criticised the Philippines for what she called Manila’s illegal occupation of some of the islands and construction work there.

“On the one hand, the Philippines keeps making further provocative moves and on the other hand, makes thoughtless remarks about China’s appropriate moves within the scope of our sovereignty,” she told a daily news briefing. “This is totally unreasonable.”

The Chinese official also said Beijing was committed to resolving issues with countries on a bilateral basis and that island disputes between China and the Philippines were not an issue for ASEAN.

China claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, believed to have huge oil and gas deposits and is rich in fishery resources.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims over the sea, where about US$5 trillion (S$6.25 trillion) of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Mr Del Rosario said Chinese construction in the Spratlys in the South China Sea was an attempt to alter the character of the features, converting reefs into islands to be able to increase maritime entitlements.

China and Vietnam are also involved in an increasingly bitter spat over the operations of a Chinese oil rig in another part of the South China Sea, around the Paracel Islands.

On Saturday, China began building a school on the largest island in the Paracel chain to serve the children of military personnel and others, two years after it established a city there to administer the South China Sea area it claims.

Agencies

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