04/08/2014, 00.00
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South China Sea, Bishop of Manila: U.S. attitude worsens situation

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary of the capital, intervenes in territorial disputes and attacks the United States for "meddling" in the dispute. The prelate calls for a frank and open dialogue between China and the Philippines, to reach an agreement that averts the use of violence. Meanwhile, Indonesia strengthens its military against Chinese maneuvers.

Manila (AsiaNews / CBCP) - Territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea can only be resolved through a frank and open dialogue between the parties involved, not by the direct involvement of foreign powers like the United States. This is according to the auxiliary bishop of Manila, Msgr. Broderick Pabillo, who says Washington's support of the Philippines "worsens" the contrasts between the two countries. Only patient diplomacy, adds the prelate, will definitively resolve the age-old question, "if the U.S. does not meddle in the dispute".

The prelate  was speaking on the sidelines of the monthly general pastoral assembly of the Archdiocese of Manila , which was held recently at the Paco Catholic School's Card. Sin Auditorium. For Msgr . Pabillo Washington's involvement - ally of the Philippines in the Asia-Pacific region - is perceived as a threat by China and feeds Manila's aggressiveness, which persists in making increasingly greater demands .

This is why he believes the United States should step aside to facilitate an agreement "between the two nations without resorting to threats or violence". Manila "must not rely " on American help, the prelate warns , so Beijing "does not feel threatened". He concludes that the two countries "should investigate their claims" and " follow the laws established in the field of international maritime borders" , involving other ASEAN nations (the Association which brings together 10 countries of South- east Asia).

The Philippine government's decision to file a motion - tabled on 30 March - at the United Nations tribunal has further exacerbated tensions.  The motion outlines the Philippines claims and defines the so-called "ox tongue" used by Beijing to mark their territory "illegal " and "irrational". The complaint is contained in a file of over 4 thousand pages with more than 40 nautical maps . Authorities in Manila are basing their claims on guidelines laid down by the UN Convention on the Seas ( UNCLOS ), according to which China cannot go beyond the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (Eez) and interfere in their legitimate rights . The Chinese government has responded with  the principle of bilateral negotiations to settle the issue and recalls its position of strength and dominance in the Asia-Pacific region.

Analysts and international politics experts see the ongoing South China Sea territorial tensions as one of the hottest fronts globally and a possible source of  large-scale conflict. A misstep by one of the actors involved, is likely to precipitate the situation and the margins for movement (and error) is increasingly small. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government has reinforced its military presence , particularly its air power in the area; in spite of the official denials, Jakarta is worried by Beijing's interest in an area off the Riau islands .

In the East China Sea, China is equally at loggerheads with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and with the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal. In the South China Sea Beijing claims sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, Brunei, Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan.  Beijing's hegemony is strategic in nature with regards to trade and oil and natural gas seabed development, in a region crossed by two thirds of the world's maritime trade.  The resource-rich islands are almost uninhabited, but are thought to hold large reserves of oil and natural gas, and other raw materials.  India, Australia and the United States are also involved in the dispute to varying degrees, with cross-cutting interests and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the world's main geopolitical hotspots.


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