Philippines, China standoff over South China Sea; US administration wants Senate to ratify Law of Sea treaty

Updated On: May 11, 2012

 Tensions between the Philippines and China have been on the rise ever since the Philippines Navy accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally around Scarborough Shoal, or Huangyan Island as China calls it, early last month. The tiny island is based in the South China Sea, and is believed to be rich in mineral resources, natural gas and oil.

Although diplomatic contact was just resumed between the Philippine Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Embassy in Manila, the feud has had China telling tourists to avoid unnecessary travel to the Philippines due to safety concerns. The National Tourism Administration has advised Chinese tourists who are already in the Philippines to abide by local laws and mind their security, while travel agencies in China have stopped sending tour groups to the Philippines.

Today, hundreds of protestors gathered outside the Chinese consular office, demanding that China withdraw its ships from the shoal. According to rally organizer Loida Nicholas Lewis, the protest is directed “at the overbearing actions and stance of the government in Beijing, which behaves like an arrogant overlord, even in the homes of its neighbours”.  The People’s Liberation Army Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese army, published a statement recently that said China would not stand for being robbed of its sovereignty of the Huangyan Island.

China’s vice president of foreign affairs Fu Ying remarked that the standoff was “severely damaging the atmosphere of bilateral relations between China and the Philippines”. Despite the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs urging the Philippines to engage in a diplomatic dialogue with them, the Philippines government announced that it wishes to settle the issue at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

Meanwhile, US defense leaders are trying to get the US Senate to approve the 1982 UN Law of the Sea treaty, which sets rules on navigation, the ocean’s use and exclusive economic zones. According to administration officials, the treaty will be necessary to protect the US Navy’s right to carry out exercises off the coast of China and will strength the US’s strategic position in Asia.

Thus far, the US is the only major nation which has refused to sign the treaty. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that ratifying the treaty would “help strengthen worldwide transit passage rights under international law and isolate Iran as one of the few remaining non-parties to the convention”. Nonetheless, senators who are opposed to the treaty have expressed their concern that the “United States sovereignty could be subjugated in many areas” and undermine its authority over oil and gas resources within the continent.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the matter, although the date has not yet been set.

Report: Trade, public anger sharpening Beijing-Manila spat [Bloomberg, 10 May 2012]

Report: China issues warning in Philippine trips after sea standoff [Bloomberg, 11 May 2012]

Report: Dispute between China and Philippines over island becomes more heated [New York Times, 10 May 2012]

Report: US administration renews push to ratify Law of Sea Treaty [VOA News, 9 May 2012]

Report: Pentagon chief calls for Senate to ratify law of sea treaty [Channel NewsAsia, 10 may 2012]

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