Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario greets US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Agencies, Manila Times/Washington DC
US State Secretary John F Kerry has said that the Philippines’ move to seek arbitration is a step in the right direction as he vowed that the US will continue to work with Manila in seeking a peaceful solution to the conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Kerry gave his full support to the arbitration efforts in his remarks before members of the press and later in his meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario at the State Department on Tuesday morning. It was the first meeting between the chief diplomats of the two staunch allies since Kerry relinquished his seat in the US Senate to succeed former State Secretary Hillary Clinton on Feb 1.
“The Philippines is one of our five Asia-Pacific allies and a very, very important relationship at this time when there are tensions over the South China Sea, where we support a code of conduct,” Kerry said in a joint press appearance with Del Rosario.
“We are deeply concerned about some of these tensions and would like to see it worked out through a process of arbitration,” he added.
Del Rosario cited Kerry for his extensive experience in foreign relations and “his understanding of Asia,” as well as his role in the restoration of Philippine democracy. Kerry was a member of an international election monitoring team during the 1986 elections.
A senator for 28 years, Kerry is probably best remembered by Filipinos as a leading advocate for democratic elections in the Philippines, serving with Senator Richard Lugar as part of a Senate delegation that uncovered the widespread fraud in the February 1986 snap elections that led to the ouster of then president Ferdinand Marcos. Kerry said the US and the Philippines “couldn’t have a stronger relationship than at this moment in time,” and said he looked forward to discussing ways to further strengthen these ties and areas of common interest to the two countries. After their meeting, Del Rosario said he and Kerry spoke at length about the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
“Secretary Kerry emphasised the importance the US gives to maintaining peace and stability in the (Asian region). More importantly, he assured me that the US is committed to supporting the efforts of the Philippines to settle the disputes peacefully and in accordance with the rule of law,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario gave Kerry an update on Manila’s arbitration initiative, underscoring its importance to the “future stability of our region in particular and to the future efficacy of international law in general,” Del Rosario said. He stressed that Manila is committed to seeing this arbitration through, adding “there should be no confusion or any doubts about our resolve.”
Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta, Deputy Chief of Mission Maria Austria, and Executive Director Rosalita Prospero of the Office of American Affairs accompanied Del Rosario. Del Rosario said Kerry is fully supportive of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, on which the arbitration initiative is grounded, and he was one of its strongest advocates for Unclos’’ ratification in the US Senate. Del Rosario and Kerry agreed to work together in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and other related meetings this year on addressing the situation in the West Philippine Sea through peaceful means.
“We agreed to work closely together, particularly in the coming Asean ministerial and summit meetings to maintain peace in the area and to resolve the disputes through peaceful means and in accordance with the rule of law,” Del Rosario said.
“I also welcomed Secretary Kerry’s commitment to work with Brunei, the current Asean chair, on the issue of the West Philippine Sea,” he added.
Del Rosario thanked Kerry for focusing on the issue of the peaceful settlement of the maritime row when he was in the Senate, noting that Kerry “was a moving force behind a Senate resolution on the peaceful settlement of disputes in the West Philippine Sea.”
The West Philippine Sea is also being claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. The Philippines filed the arbitration on January 22 but China formally rejected it on February 19. Under the provisions on Unclos, the president of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) can choose China’s representative in the tribunal. The court currently has two panels out of the five it needs—German judge Rudiger Wolfrum for the Philippines and Polish judge Stanislaw Pawlak for China. Itlos President Shunji Yanai is expected to name the next three members of the panel in the coming months. The arbitration is expected to last for four years.
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