China 'dictatorial' in Scarborough Shoal dispute, says Albert del Rosario

Philippine minister says Beijing told Manila it aims to permanently station ships in disputed territory, creating an 'impossible' situation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2012, 3:55am

China has told the Philippines it intends to keep ships permanently stationed at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, according to the Philippines' foreign secretary.

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday with the South China Morning Post, Secretary Albert del Rosario described Beijing's moves as "dictatorial" and warned that its new leadership might struggle to ignore demands from the public for more assertiveness.

He said he feared a permanent presence would make it "impossible" to return to earlier diplomatic efforts to prevent the dispute harming broader Sino-Philippine ties.

"They have told us what their intention is, we don't have to guess," del Rosario said when asked about the activities of Chinese ships at the shoal - known in Chinese as Huangyan Island or as Panatag Shoal to the Philippines.

"They say that these ships will remain there permanently. The longer the ships remain, the more impossible the situation becomes."

Del Rosario's remarks come after days of diplomacy over the strategic and oil-rich South China Sea, virtually all of which is claimed by China through its controversial nine-dotted line.

The Philippines objected to Cambodian claims at an Asean meeting this month that the grouping had agreed not to "internationalise" the issue, while Manila, Hanoi and New Delhi have formally protested against new Chinese passports showing the nine-dotted line.

Del Rosario confirmed, meanwhile, that the Philippines was seeking clarification about new rules published yesterday by the China Daily that would allow Hainan police to board and search ships in the South China Sea.

He said Philippine surveillance aircraft had noted that three Chinese coastguard-type ships remained near Scarborough Shoal while a boom remained to block access. After a two-month stand-off, the sides agreed in June to withdraw ships from the area - a deal Manila says has been ignored by Beijing.

In one discussion a month ago, Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying said Beijing intended to keep ships there permanently, rejecting Manila's sovereignty claims.

During the talks, Beijing also made clear what it meant by its demands that rival claimants should not "internationalise" South China Sea disputes - no multilateral discussions, no talks with international partners such as the US and Japan, no media interviews and no moves at the United Nations, he said.

"China is endeavouring to dictate to us how we should be behaving and what we should be doing," del Rosario said. "We feel that we ought to be able to use all the tools in the peaceful pursuit of [a] resolution to [disputes] that is in accordance with our national interests."

Those "tools" comprised a three-track approach by Manila - talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and international partners, bilateral diplomacy with Beijing and research into taking legal action to formally dispute China's claim under the UN's Convention of the Law of the Sea.

Asked if he was worried about ties worsening, del Rosario said he was unsure whether international hopes that China's new leadership would be less assertive were a "valid supposition".

While an optimist, he said: "I can see the constituency of China becoming more assertive and the leadership will not be able to ignore that environment."

Del Rosario said repeatedly he wanted a return to the status quo - previously discussed with Vice President Xi Jinping - where the sides keep disputes to one side, to improve economic, social and political relations. Removing the ships, he said, would "make that a lot easier".