The US Embassy in Manila is calling on China and all other claimants of the South China Sea to “refrain” from construction and reclamation activities, as well as the militarization of the disputed waterway.
“We call on China, as well as other claimants, to refrain from taking any steps towards the construction of new facilities, militarization of disputed features, and further land reclamation in the South China Sea, and to commit to resolving disputes peacefully with other claimants, particularly given the ongoing efforts by Asean and China to negotiate a code of conduct,” US Embassy Manila press attaché Molly Koscina told the Inquirer in a text message on Saturday.
Koscina was asked for comment on the photos released by the Inquirer last February 5, showing the remarkable progress of China’s construction of air and naval bases on seven of its artificial islands claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly archipelago.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who has downplayed the sea dispute since he assumed the presidency in 2016, reiterated that the Philippines will continue to pursue its friendly ties with the regional superpower because it cannot go to war with China.
“We are neutral. We will continue to talk with China. This is not the time to be fighting over South China Sea because it will only lead to a war,” he said in a press conference on Friday in Davao City.
Duterte also chose to set aside the 2016 ruling by an international arbitration tribunal that favored the Philippines and invalidated China’s massive claims in the South China Sea.
China and the 10-member Asean states are working on the code of conduct for the vital waterway, which is mostly claimed by China but also claimed by the Philippines and other Asean countries.
The embassy said the US will continue to uphold international law, and urged the regional claimants to hold a dialogue on the hotly contested waterway.
“We remain firm in our commitment to uphold the rights and freedoms of all states under international law with regard to freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea,” Koscina said.
“We continue to urge all claimants, including China, to peacefully manage and resolve disputes in accordance with international law,” she added. /kga
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.