'West PH sea claimants urged to take commercial approach'

Posted at 05/23/14 2:03 PM

Panelists discuss the Asia security outlook at the World Economic Forum on East Asia. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Claimant countries in the West Philippine Sea should take a more novel approach in solving the dispute, a global issues expert said at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

Parag Khanna, an author and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said that national oil companies in claimant countries as well as other business stakeholders should be included in the discussion of both island and maritime claims.

"When national pride, sovereignty and maps are at stake, it's incredibly difficult to settle through a compromise, but if you take a shared commercial approach and everyone starts to enjoy the benefits in the short term, they will know the need for it and the demand for it," he said at the Asia Security Outlook session on Friday.

The Philippines, China and other neighboring countries are in a dispute over several islands in the West Philippine Sea including Spratlys, believed to have potential oil and natural gas reserves.

The Philippines has taken the matter to the international court, questioning the legality of China's nine dash line, which covered the disputed Spratly Islands.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario clarified at the same session that the arbitration was not a move to go against China.

"It's not a matter of the Philippines going against China, but rather to gain legal clarity on maritime entitlement, to get a definition on what we can can claim is ours. For us, that's one way of settling the matter in a peaceful way," she said.

Del Rosario added that to settle disputes, more dialogues and institutions should be put in place for the claimant countries.

US Navy Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear III admitted that the territorial dispute has become "complicated" and is being caused by the rapid economic growth in the region and the rise of China.

Locklear noted that claimant countries should be committed to the rule of law and look to international bodies to solve these disputes.

"You can't have a winner-take-all attitude, this will require compromise and dialogue. You'll never stop having friction in this part of the world because of good economic growth, and competition is good for the region," he said.

Khanna, however, said that while dialogues are necessary, he is worried that all these talks particularly on building institutions do not have the "strategic maturity" to back it up.

He said if Asia wants to be recognized as the world's "third pillar" next to North America and Europe, it has to first come up with clear and focused strategies.

Locklear, meanwhile, said the US military's strategy to "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region is not focused on trying to contain China.

Locklear stressed that China and US share many economic interests.

"The US position out here is not to contain China. Militarily, we welcome them in, we welcome transparency and more exercises," Locklear said.

"The only person that can contain China is China," he added.

China did not send a delegate to the WEF, which was held in the Philippines for the first time.

In a press conference on Thursday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said China's absence will not affect the forum's objective.