WEF: Philippines, Indonesia sign 'model' pact on sea boundaries

THE Philippines and Indonesia have formally signed a "model" agreement setting their maritime boundary, in a veiled message to China and Vietnam which are locked in a bitter standoff not seen since the neighbours fought a brief border war 33 years ago.

"This indeed is a model, a good example, that any disputes, including maritime border tension, can be resolved peacefully," Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after overseeing the signing with his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino.

Mr Aquino said the agreement "serves as solid proof to our steadfast commitment to uphold the rule of law and pursue the peaceful and equitable settlement of maritime concerns".

The Philippine foreign ministry's spokesman Charles Jose said the deal showed Manila's willingness to wait for two decades if that was how long it would take to end its own dispute with China.

Under the deal, concluded after 20 years of on-and-off negotiations, the Philippines and Indonesia agreed to set new maritime boundary lines where their exclusive economic zones (EEZs) overlap in the Mindanao and Celebes seas. The area covers rich fishing grounds, key trade routes and potential oil or natural gas deposits.

An EEZ, defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as extending 200 nautical miles from a country's coast, gives the country special rights over marine resources in those waters.

Relations between China and Vietnam have been tense since the placement of a Chinese oil rig in waters less than 300km from Vietnam's shores about three weeks ago. Last week, anti-China riots broke out in Vietnam, which left several people dead, including four Chinese nationals.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has taken China before an international tribunal to contest its claims in the South China Sea, a case likely to drag on well after Mr Aquino steps down in 2016.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

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