MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine president said Monday that Manila’s arbitration case against Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea is not meant to provoke China but to peacefully defend his nation’s territory and sovereignty.
Manila resorted to arbitration after more than a decade of unsuccessful regional attempts to forge a binding code of conduct in the sea, President Benigno Aquino III told reporters.
“We went through the arbitration because that is a means to resolve the dispute which is consistent with a peaceful policy and in conformity with international law,” Aquino said.
The Philippines on Sunday submitted to the tribunal in The Hague 4,000 pages of analysis and documentary evidence to defend its territorial claims, ignoring Beijing’s warning the case will damage ties.
The Chinese Embassy on Monday quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei as rejecting arbitration and accusing the Philippines of “illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs.”
Hong said the Philippines agreed to China’s position to settle disputes through direct negotiations in a series of bilateral documents and in a 2002 declaration signed by Beijing and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea.
“The Philippines is obliged to honour its own commitment,” he said.
As a party to the U.N. Convention on the Law of Sea, China also declared in 2006 that such disputes are excluded from arbitration, Hong added.
Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Charles Jose said Manila “never ruled out anything” with regards to resolving the dispute. He said it was up to the tribunal to determine if the case can be subject of arbitration.
That 2002 non-binding declaration on the South China Sea was seen as a first step to forging a binding agreement. China has only reluctantly agreed to open consultations and has lobbied some ASEAN members to prevent consensus.
Aquino expressed frustration that after more than a decade of talks between ASEAN and China “we still have no code of conduct.”
“So what are our options with regards to the whole issue,” he said. “I have to defend national territory and our sovereignty.”
The Philippines has urged other claimants to join the arbitration case, but none has done so publicly.
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims across the busy South China Sea.
China has asked claimants to settle the disputes through one-on-one negotiations, an advantage for Beijing because of its sheer size and clout. It has also warned Washington not to get involved.