In support of its motion for a United Nations (UN) ruling against Beijing in what has thus far proved a tense territorial standoff, the Philippines announced on Saturday that it has suspended its plan to improve a military airstrip in the disputed South China Sea.
In March 2001, the Philippines sought UN arbitration in the matter of the disputed waters. The country asked the tribunal to declare Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea – which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea – a violation of international law; adding tension to an already volatile situation between the two Southeast Asian neighbours.
China’s claim stretches across almost the entire expanse of sea, and extends into areas claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. The South China Sea is essential to world trade, and is thought to contain rich reserves of oil.
Abigail Valte, President Benigno Aquino’s spokesperson, said that the longstanding plans to upgrade the military runway in Spratly islands – part of the disputed territory – has been set aside for now, so as to increase the odds of a UN ruling in favor of the Philippines.
said the government had suspended long-planned upgrade work on a military runway in the disputed Spratly islands to boost chances of a favourable ruling at the UN.
“We wanted to maintain the moral high ground in light of the case we filed at the (UN) arbitration tribunal regarding the West Philippine Sea. We chose… to ease tensions and avoid any incident that may be construed as ramping up tensions or trying to provoke any of the claimant countries,” Valte via an interview over a state-run radio station Saturday.
Valte brushed aside some accusations that the decision to halt the airstrip upgrade would be seen as a sign of weakness and give China the upper-hand in its aggressive efforts towards its claims to the South China Sea.
“In our view, it will not weaken our position,” she stressed.