Philippines hails Clinton remarks on South China Sea

Posted at 09/04/12 6:59 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine officials praised US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call for a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, saying Tuesday she had bolstered Manila's stance.

Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Clinton's backing for a peaceful resolution of the disputes and the passage of a "code of conduct" were objectives the Philippines had also been seeking.

Clinton, on a stop in Indonesia Monday en route to China, warned against any coercion in the conflict-riven South China Sea and urged progress on a code of conduct to manage the overlapping disputes there.

"We have long been trying to finalise (the code). This code of conduct will minimise any confrontation in the area," Gazmin told reporters Tuesday.

"That is what we have been seeking. We need to speak in one voice. If we are united we can deal with a major country and we can pursue a united solution within ASEAN and third-party countries," he said.

ASEAN members Philippines and Vietnam, which also lay claim to the disputed areas, have both accused China of pressing its territorial claims in the South China Sea more aggressively.

In April, Chinese and Philippine ships faced-off over the Scarborough Shoal, an outcropping of rocks in the South China Sea off the coast of the western Philippines.

While the Philippines has withdrawn its vessels in a gesture to China, officials say Chinese ships are still at the shoal.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil and gas, is one of the region's most important fishing grounds and has shipping lanes that are vital to global trade.

The Philippines, Vietnam, and fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations members Malaysia and Brunei, along with Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.

Philippine foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez separately stressed Tuesday that the Philippines was seeking a "peaceful, rules-based and also multilateral approach" to settling the disputes in the South China Sea.

He also called for speedy approval of the code of conduct among rival claimants to minimise tensions in the sea.