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Philippines seeks ASEAN help to blunt China
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) Sept 22, 2011

The Philippines on Thursday sought backing from its Southeast Asian neighbours for its plan to blunt China's claims over disputed areas of the South China Sea and ease tensions.

Vice President Jejomar Binay made the appeal at a meeting of maritime law experts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where he alleged foreign intrusions continued in Philippine seawaters.

"The Philippines is not alone in experiencing these continuous 'misunderstandings' and unabated attempts to undermine the legitimate rights of states bordering the South China Sea," Binay told the delegates.

The Philippines has repeatedly complained this year of aggressive acts by the Chinese military in the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas deposits, while also hosting vital global shipping lanes.

The Philippines has accused its powerful neighbour of firing on Filipino fishermen, laying buoys on Philippine islets and intimidating an oil exploration vessel.

It called the meeting of legal experts in an effort to form a united ASEAN front to counter China's insistence it has sovereign rights to all of the South China Sea, even waters lapping the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.

ASEAN members the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, all have claims to parts of the South China Sea.

Binay said the Philippines' plan centred on marking out disputed sections of the South China Sea, which claimants could then agree to jointly develop.

Those areas not in dispute would be the exclusive preserve of the country owning them.

"By doing so, the gridlock that has prevented the parties from moving with speed on joint cooperation in the... South China Sea would be completely unlocked," he said.

"This, from the perspective of the Philippines, would truly transform the (sea) from a potential flashpoint into a zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation."

The Philippines acknowledges that the Spratly islands, an archipelago believed to sit above rich fossil fuel deposits, is in a disputed area, meaning China and other nations have legitimate competing claims.

But it insists nearby areas, such as the Reed Bank where it has recently granted oil and gas exploration permits, are undisputed parts of its territory because they are within its 200-nautical-mile economic exclusion zone.

However, because China claims all of the South China Sea, the Chinese government insists it has sole rights to all of the area, including Reed Bank.

The Philippines said Chinese naval vessels harassed an oil exploration vessel at Reed Bank early this year in one of the first incidents to increase tensions.

Asked after his speech if ASEAN support of the Filipino plan would temper Chinese behaviour in the disputed sea, Binay told reporters: "Ah, well, we are very optimistic."

Chinese embassy spokesman Sun Yi could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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