Monday, June 20, 2011

Rajah Humabon to stay within Philippine borders

Manila Times, Monday, June 20,2011

The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Sunday assured that the country’s naval flagship would not go beyond the country’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, as it prepares to deploy near disputed islands and surrounding waters in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Despite apparent muscle-flexing by claimant-countries to the contested areas, Gen. Eduardo Oban Jr. said that he remained optimistic that the territorial dispute would be solved peacefully and avoid a potential armed confrontation.

“We hope it will not reach that point,” Oban told reporters when asked if sending the Philippine Navy flagship Rajah Humabon to the West Philippine Sea could stoke clashes.

He said that the flagship would be confined to its maritime boundaries and would not stray into international waters.

“I am optimistic that whatever conflicts may arise there will be settled peacefully and diplomatically, although what I am saying is that we will have to [also] enforce maritime laws within our 200-nautical mile [exclusive economic] zone,” Oban added.

Manila said that it would deploy the Rajah Humabon to the West Philippine Sea on Friday, a day after China announced that one of its maritime patrol vessels was also scheduled to pass through the area.

Both countries, as well as Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam have competing claims to potentially resource-rich areas in the disputed territories and surrounding waters, particularly Spratly Islands.

China claims the entire South China Sea as its historical fishing grounds, but the Philippines argues that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that a country has exclusive economic rights over waters that fall within 200 nautical miles of its continental shelf.

The Philippines’ zone overlaps in some places with those of claims by the other claimants to the Spratlys.

Commissioned in the Philippine Navy in 1980, the Rajah Humabon was a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II and is one of the world’s oldest warships.

Tensions in the long-running dispute over the area flared in recent months on allegations by the Philippines and Vietnam that China has become increasingly aggressive in staking its territorial claims.

The Philippines accused China this month of sending naval vessels to intimidate rival claimants around the Spratly Islands, as well as of installing buoys and posts in nearby areas.

Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario met with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) also on Sunday and called on them to have a common stand against China over the overlapping claims.

Asean groups the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar., Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Hanoi’s cause was pushed further forward also on Sunday by up to 100 Vietnamese who rallied outside the Chinese Embassy in the Vietnamese capital for the third weekend in a row over the escalating maritime row with Beijing in the West Philippine Sea.

The group sang patriotic songs, chanted and carried signs such as “China stop violating the territorial waters of Vietnam,” referring to the dispute over the sovereignty of two archipelagos—Paracel and Spratlys—in the South China Sea.

“The East Sea is not the village pond of China. I come here to show my patriotism,” said one protester, who asked not to be named, using the Vietnamese name for the sea.

Demonstrations are not common in authoritarian Vietnam, where small land-rights rallies are tolerated but advocates of other political causes risk arrest, yet anti-China sentiment recently brought people to the streets.

Police at Sunday’s rally, who outnumbered the crowd, noted their patriotism but told them through loudhailers, “Your gathering here may complicate the situation, influencing diplomatic relations between the two countries.”

The United States and Vietnam also on Friday jointly called for freedom of navigation and rejected the use of force in the sea.

After talks in Washington, the former war foes said that “the maintenance of peace, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is in the common interests of the international community.”

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