Philippines seek cooperation in South China Sea dispute

On 21st May, the Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Filipino president Aquino announced their cooperation against “illegal” Chinese activities and sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Shortly after, on May 22nd, the Vietnamese minister held a speech at the World Economic Forum in Manila, Philippines, saying that Vietnam is considering joining the Philippines in a lawsuit against China under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The declaration of cooperation from Wednesday was made only two days after Aquino accused China to violate an informal agreement from 2002 between the 10 ASEAN member states and China. Within this informal code of conduct, China and the ASEAN member states declared to refrain from building new structures, such as oil rigs, and occupying uninhibited reefs.

South China Sea: Interactive map (click it)

According to Filipino intelligence, China started to claim territory surrounding the Johnson South Reef, considered to be within the Filipino Exclusive Economic zone (EEZ), already in 2012. Several military surveillance photos were released on May 15th, providing evidence of Chinese construction sites on uninhibited reefs.

The EEZ is regulated by the UNCLOS, which was signed and ratified by China. The UNCLOS defines the EEZ of a state 200 miles from it’s shores.

On May 1st, China deployed an oil rig close to the Vietnamese shore, within an area Vietnam considers to be part of it’s EEZ.

After deploying the oil rig, Vietnamese boats tried to stop the Chinese vessels and by today (May 22nd), fights with ramming and water cannons between coast guards and fishing vessels of both states continue. No hard ammunition was reported to be used thus far, but demonstrations against Chinese sea occupation in Vietnam resulted in several deaths.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the main source of conflict in the South China Sea is about resources. Beside fishery and hydrocarbons, which are in high demand due to the forthcoming industrialization of the coastal areas, the South China Sea is expected to have at least seven billion barrels of oil reserves and 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Furthermore, about 50% of global oil tanker shipments routes through the South China Sea and traffic is significantly higher than in the Suez Canal or Panama Canal.

Since the US is increasing it’s activity in the pacific, China might feel forced to secure this very important trade lane and to get the disputed territory and resources under control before external forces become a thread to the Chinese interest in the South China Sea.

The US announced it’s focus on the transpacific relations in 2010. Right now, the US is negotiating a free trade area, called Transpacific Partnership (TPP), with several states within the pacific ocean.

Besides the TPP, the US also announced on April 28th a military cooperation with the Philippines and will reactivate military bases within the Philippines.



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