By Li Hongmei, Specially for Sina English
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Wednesday warned against settling disputes by armed force as China sent nearly 100 vessels to Huangyan Island, raising tensions with the Philippines in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Speaking before a United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on mediation, Del Rosario stressed that “the cost of conflict is too high in lives lost, in futures destroyed and in what must be done to rebuild.”
Del Rosario is leading the Philippines’ efforts to bring the island dispute to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea . Beijing has rejected international mediation and begun to put an economic squeeze on Manila by suspending tourism to the Philippines and tightening inspection rules for Philippine banana exports.
“The sad reality is that the vast political and economic differences between states, including those in dispute, often render this doctrine dead letter law,” he lamented.
The Philippines complained China has increased the number of its vessels at Huangyan Island to 92 from 77 earlier this week, including four government ships, fishing and utility boats, while the Philippines has only two civilian vessels at the island.
On Monday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) handed Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing a diplomatic note-the seventh since the standoff began-to protest the increase in the number of Chinese vessels at the island.
The Chinese foreign ministry responded by accusing the Philippines of “provocative actions”. Hong said the Chinese vessels at Huangyan Island were working in the area according to related Chinese laws and the fishing moratorium issued by the Chinese government.
“The Philippine side has recently taken some provocative actions in the Huangyan Island waters, thus the Chinese side has adopted corresponding measures to strengthen management and control,” Hong said.
The Philippines does not recognize the Chinese moratorium, but has declared its own fishing ban. And, its DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez reported that the Chinese vessels continued fishing and collecting protected corals despite China’s fishing ban.
In reply, Hong Lei said, “to our knowledge, now there are about 20 Chinese fishing boats working in that area. This number is roughly the same with that in the same period of the previous years.”
“The way these fishing boats are working complies with the related Chinese laws and the fishing moratorium issued by the Chinese government,” he added.
On the flip side, in his remarks at the UN meeting that was convened and chaired by Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, president of the UN General Assembly, Philippine DFA chief Del Rosario stressed the importance of mediation in settling disputes between small and large rival states, as in the dispute between Philippines and China over Huangyan Island.
“Mediation and other third-party mechanisms can level the playing field,” he said.
Thus far, it is highly dubious what the Philippine side intends to do-Steer clear of war and settle the dispute through diplomatic and peaceful channels as it always preaches? Or it is, in actuality, fueling the flare-up under the guise of playing weak and venerable. Even more vicious, the true intention behind the scene might well be that Manila has been fishing for a powerful meddling hand into the bilateral disputes with China to churn up the troubled waters for its windfalls.