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Manila isolating itself with its antics

By Wang Hui | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-18 08:17

By refusing to discuss its South China Sea dispute with China at the bilateral level, the Philippines is once again whipping up a war of words with China. Manila's irresponsible stance will do a disservice to the upcoming meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations over key documents related to managing the disputes in the South China Sea.

On Monday, in response to a statement issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the weekend, Raul Hernandez, the spokesman of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, described the Chinese statement as "baseless" and China's position over the waters as "rigid". He went even further and said that "it has, therefore, become impossible to continue bilateral discussions" on the disputes.

Manila should know that both China and ASEAN support resolving the disputes at the bilateral level, as the disputes only involve China and a few ASEAN members. Manila should also be fully aware of the fact that China and ASEAN are pressing ahead with their consultations on a code of conduct on implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

As announced by the two sides during last month's meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Brunei, the consultations are scheduled to take place in Beijing in September.

It is only natural that China has rejected Manila's comments. On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a written statement: "We regret that the Philippines stated that it has become impossible for it to continue bilateral discussions with China, and are dissatisfied with its refusal of diplomatic negotiations and closing the door to dialogue."

Hua urged the Philippines to correct its erroneous actions and respond positively to China's suggestions that the two countries establish a regular consultation mechanism on maritime issues, resume their mechanism on trust-building measures and return to the correct track of resolving disputes through bilateral negotiations.

As before, the latest skirmish was instigated by the Philippines. Last week, Albert del Rosario, the Philippine foreign secretary, said in Belgium that his country has exhausted almost all the political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Yet it is Manila that has chosen to ratchet up tensions over the disputed waters in recent years rather than employing diplomatic means to resolve its dispute with China.

Manila has changed its attitude and approach in handling the dispute. It has reneged on its consensus with China and broken its commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Last year, it set off the incident over Huangyan Island by harassing Chinese civilians with warships. This cast a shadow over peace and stability in the region.

Manila has also tried to internationalize the issue, turning a cold shoulder to the dire consequences of further complicating the issue and undercutting regional efforts to keep the issue in the hands of diplomats.

Right now, the upcoming discussion on a code of conduct is of the utmost importance for China and ASEAN, as well as the region as a whole. The concerned parties should exercise restraint and avoid talking wildly or acting recklessly so that a harmonious atmosphere can be established for the September talks.

In fact, both China and ASEAN are keen on seeking a positive outcome from the talks. Under such circumstances, Manila's remarks are in open defiance to the consensus reached between China and ASEAN over the maritime territorial disputes, as well as to the two sides' efforts to resolve them through consultations and negotiations.

By playing the rogue again, Manila is attempting to block any progress that might be achieved in the consultations between China and ASEAN. Yet this is destined to fail, due to Manila's isolation in the region and the unprecedented zeal China and ASEAN are showing in negotiating a code of conduct.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. wanghui@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 07/18/2013 page8)

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