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Manila playing for 'sympathy'

By Zhou Wa (China Daily)

08:13, July 18, 2013

Manila's recent statement on the South China Sea issue is an attempt to win sympathy from the international community, in the hope of strengthening its bargaining position with China, observers said on Wednesday.

On Monday, the Philippine Foreign Ministry issued a statement criticizing what it sees as China's tough position on territories in the South China Sea.

Manila said that a Chinese statement on July 12 was baseless and that China's hard-line position made it impossible to continue negotiations, forcing the Philippines to finally resort to international arbitration.

By taking the role of a "victim", the Philippines hopes to gain international support, especially from countries that have maritime disputes with China, said Wu Shicun, head of the National Institute of South China Sea Studies.

Xu Liping, a researcher on Asia-Pacific studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, echoed this view, saying that Manila is trying to create sympathetic public opinion ahead of consultations on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea in September.

In a statement on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Beijing regrets that Manila "stated that it has become impossible for it to continue bilateral discussions with China", and said the Chinese government was "dissatisfied with its rejection of diplomatic negotiations and the closure of the door to dialogue".

According to Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez, a United Nations arbitration tribunal was convened on July 11.

In January, the Philippines sent China a diplomatic note verbale suggesting international arbitration. China rejected the suggestion and returned the note verbale in February.

But Manila stuck to its plan and started the process of compulsory dispute settlement procedures through the UN, although Hua said that such procedures should not apply to the ongoing dispute.

The root of the problem, said Hua, is the illegal occupation by the Philippines of certain islands and reefs in China's Nansha Islands group.

"China sticks to the longstanding position of safeguarding national territorial sovereignty, which is totally legitimate ... and stays committed to solving disputes concerning territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation through bilateral negotiations, in accordance with international law and the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," Hua said.

The spokeswoman added that there has been ongoing communication between Beijing and Manila on the issue.

"The two sides had reached an important consensus on carrying out cooperation in a step-by-step manner and resolving bilateral disputes through negotiations," Hua said.

As approved by the two governments, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Philippine National Oil Company have signed an agreement for joint marine seismic explorations in certain parts of the South China Sea. This arrangement, which has also included Vietnam, has contributed to stability in the area, said Hua.

"However, it is regrettable that in recent years, the Philippines has changed its attitude and approach in handling the issue, gone back on its consensus with China, broken its commitment in the DOC, cast aside the framework of dialogue upheld by a majority of countries," she said.

Manila appears to have taken new line on the issue since President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010, said Yang Baoyun, a professor on Asia-Pacific studies with Peking University.

"Manila firmly believes that it has won Washington's backing, and it will not stop playing on the issue during Aquino's presidency," he said.

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