China, Philippines tread cautiously over Spratlys dispute

By Dona Pazzibugan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

2:40 pm | Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie shakes hands with his Filipino counterpart Voltaire Gazmin after their one on one meeting at Manila’s military headquarters on Monday. Guanglie was expected to meet with top Filipino and defense officials as well as with President Benigno Aquino III amid tensions over alleged incursions of Chinese vessels and planes in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea. AFP PHOTO / JAY DIRECTO

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and visiting Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie have assured each other of their commitment towards a “peaceful resolution” of the territorial dispute in the Spratlys chain of islands in the South China Sea and warned rival claimants to avoid unilateral action.

Guanglie’s four-day visit comes amid renewed tensions in the disputed Spratly Islands, which are contested by China, the Philippines and four other nations.

Gazmin, however, did not take up with his counterpart the latest incident of Chinese intrusion last March where two Chinese Navy gunboats tailed a government oil research vessel in the Reed Bank, which the Philippines claims to be well within its territory.

Guanglie, for his part, said they have no MIG in their fleet of warplanes as his way of denying that the two fighter jets spotted near the Reed Bank the other week were Chinese.

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has not been able to identify the foreign aircraft but corrected previous reports that two fighter jets “buzzed” two PAF planes that were on routine patrol in the area.

The two defense officials held talks at the Department of National Defense headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo Monday morning.

Guanglie is here for a five-day official visit until May 25.

The two defense chiefs acknowledged the need to ensure that the South China Sea remains stable and called for responsible behavior while claimant nations seek a peaceful solution.

In a statement read after the talks, the two officials agreed that “unilateral actions (in the South China Sea) which could cause alarm should be avoided.”

“Both ministers expressed hope that the implementing guidelines of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea would soon be finalized and agreed upon, that responsible behavior of all parties to the South China Sea issue would help keep the area stable while all parties work for the peaceful resolution of the issues.

“Both ministers recognized that unilateral actions which could cause alarm should be avoided,” said the statement read by Defense Undersecretary and spokesman Eduardo Batac.

The 2002 Declaration signed by China and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations is an undertaking to work for a definitive Code of Conduct among the six nations that have laid claim on the Spratlys.

Aside from the Philippines and China, the other Spratlys claimants are Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

“Both ministers acknowledge the need to ensure that the South China Sea remains stable and recognized the usefulness of the declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” the statement went on. With a report from Associated Press

Originally posted at 1:51 pm | Monday, May 23, 2011


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