By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent

Three leading members of the European Union – Germany, France and the United Kingdom–came together to call on China to honor the 2016 arbitral ruling in the Hague that granted exclusive ownership to the Philippines of the South China Sea (SCS), which duly renamed it West Philippine Sea.

China however rejected as “unwelcome” the call of the European
powers France, Germany and UK to respect the arbitration ruling of 2016 and the rules-based framework laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The three nations were major signatories to UNCLOS.

In a joint statement issued September 3, UK, France and Germany said: “We are concerned about the situation in the South China Sea which could lead to insecurity and instability in the region.”

They called on coastal states in the disputed waters “to take steps and measures that reduce tensions and contribute to maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability and safety in the region, including as regards the rights of coastal states in their waters and the freedom and rights of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea.”

They said UNCLOS is the “legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas, including in the South China Sea, must be carried out and which provides the basis for national, regional and global cooperation in the maritime domain.”

They recalled that the July 2016 arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines and invalidated China’s claims over most of the West Philippine Sea was rendered under UNCLOS.

They welcomed the on-going negotiations between members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China for the crafting of a “rules-based, cooperative and effective Code of Conduct consistent with UNCLOS in the South China Sea and encourage progress towards its early conclusion.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry for its part said the situation in the SCS remains stable and is improving because of the concerted efforts of China and ASEAN countries.

“We, the regional countries, have the will, wisdom and capability to properly resolve the South China Sea issue and achieve long-term stability, development and prosperity in this region,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang in a press conference in Beijing.

While implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS in a comprehensive and effective manner, China and ASEAN countries have vigorously advanced and made important progress in the consultations on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, he added.

“On the other hand, however, some non-regional countries made unwelcome remarks and deliberately highlighted tensions in disregard of the efforts by regional countries to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea. China opposes that,” Geng stated.

“We urge those countries to look at the South China Sea issue objectively, stop making negative comments, and create an enabling environment for regional countries to properly handle maritime disputes and advance cooperation,” the Chinese official said.

That China had no plans to respect the UNCLOS ruling was made clear to President Duterte himself during the Philippine president’s visit to China. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Chinese President Xi Jinping had reiterated to Duterte that China adamantly rejects the arbitral ruling.

Panelo noted that Duterte was kind of apologetic when he raised the ruling in a meeting with Xi.

He recalled Duterte’s exact words to Xi as: “I didn’t want to alarm you with what I’m about to raise because of your problem in Hong Kong, which is why I’m asking for forgiveness but I need to say this because I promised my countrymen.”

Disclosing more details of the August 29 bilateral meeting, Panelo said Duterte was “unequivocal but friendly” in invoking the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. “The two presidents had mutual respect for each other,” Panelo added.

Asked if there was tension during the discussions, Panelo replied: “Definitely none… You know, if there’s mutual respect, there’s no tension.”

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