Philippines draws German backing on sea disputes with China

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - A German foreign minister yesterday expressed his country's support for the Philippine position to solve its sea disputes with China under international law, saying that peaceful resolution was best for the two countries.

In a press briefing yesterday, German Federal Foreign Minister Guido said that the Philippines' territorial disputes with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) were discussed during a meeting with Philippine diplomats and officials and that his country remained supportive of peaceful resolution of the disputes.

"We appeal to all sides to resolve all the questions in accordance with international law and in a peaceful and cooperative way," Westerwelle said in a statement.

Westerwelle and a 12-man delegation from Germany were in Manila for a two-day visit, the first by Germany's top diplomat to the Philippines in 12 years.

For his part, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said that he conveyed to his foreign counterpart the Philippine initiative to bring the territorial disputes before an arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) to "clearly establish the county's sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea."

"I asked him to continue supporting the Philippine effort for a peaceful and durable solution to this dispute," Del Rosario said in a statement.

Westerwelle, when asked by reporters to explain Germany's support, Del Rosario said that a German professor of international public law was appointed as a judge to the tribunal, and that "all countries in the region, the European Union, have an interest in a stable and peaceful development."

"The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Chinese economies are closely linked by a free trade agreement and this shows us (that) everyone gains from cooperation and not confrontation," Westerwelle added.

In its "notification of statement and claim" filed before the UN, the Philippines said that it had appointed Judge Rudiger Wolfrum, a German professor of international law who served as president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea from 2005 to 2008, as part of the arbitral panel .

China claims nearly the entire West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), while the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have claims to parts of it.

Invoking the Unclos, the Philippines haled China to the UN arbitral tribunal in hopes of compelling Beijing to respect Manila's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf encompassing territories in the West Philippine Sea.

China, however, had maintained that it has indisputable sovereignty over the area and that talks should only be on a bilateral basis with the countries directly involved.

Del Rosario, during the briefing, noted that based on his understanding, the Philippines' international partners, including the European Union, had taken the position that "we should seek a peaceful resolution to this dispute and the process of arbitration is considered a peaceful means in seeking this resolution."

Del Rosario also noted that the Philippines and Germany were taking steps to "re-invigorate defence relations" and that a delegation from the German Ministry of Defence (MOD) would be visiting Manila next week to "conduct bilateral discussions" with Philippine defence officials.

Asked whether discussions would involve exchanges in military training or procurement of defence equipment, Del Rosario just said that years ago, the two countries had an agreement which led to the training of Philippine military men in Germany and that the visit of German defence officials was part of a "current initiative to revisit and expand that."

"There will be a German military delegation that will be arriving to revisit this initiative and to work themselves into the possible drafting of a memorandum of understanding that would formalise other means of cooperation," he said.

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