Philippines unveils triple-action plan for S. China Sea

Freeze on moves that raise tension in disputed waters is one part

MANILA - The Philippines will propose a freeze on all activity that raises tension in disputed waters in the South China Sea as part of a three-part plan at a regional security meeting next month.

South-east Asian foreign ministers will hold security talks with their various counterparts including those from the US, China and the European Union in Myanmar next month, with escalating sea disputes in Asia likely to be a main issue.

China claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain oil and gas deposits and has rich fishery resources. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the sea, where about US$5 trillion (S$6.2 trillion) of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Relations between China and the Philippines have been tested recently by their dispute over part of the sea.

"We have this plan to submit a suggestion on a moratorium and that would be the immediate approach to the exacerbating problems in the South China Sea," Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said after meeting European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton yesterday.

"It's constructive, it's positive and it's comprehensive. No one will quarrel with you on that right to get a moratorium on exacerbating the situation there and ultimately to manage tension."

The United States, a close ally and former colonial power in the Philippines, has called on all parties to halt their activities in the disputed sea to ease tension, and Manila has supported that call.

But China responded by telling the US to stay out of disputes and leave countries in the region to resolve problems themselves.

Mr del Rosario said the other two elements of his "triple-action plan" were the implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea and arbitration to settle disputes.

The Philippines has filed an arbitration complaint against China, seeking clarification on its right to exploit resources in its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Ms Ashton, in Manila for a two-day visit to strengthen trade, aid and security relations, called on all parties to refrain from using force to resolve disputes. She also urged against unilateral attempts by any party to assert claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force.

Mr del Rosario accused China of violating an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea when it placed an oil rig in the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam in May. China removed the rig earlier this month.

REUTERS