Philippines welcomes China assurance over disputed sea

Posted at 01/04/13 7:34 PM

MANILA, Philippines - China's assurance that it will not board foreign ships passing through the disputed West Philippine Sea is a welcome development, an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) general said Friday.

AFP Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said Beijing should follow international laws.

"We should stick to international laws and China should respect our territory and sovereignty," Sabban told media at Camp Aguinaldo.

He said China will violate international laws if it boards foreign ships in the area.

"I don't think it will be good for one claimant country (to board vessels) of other countries who are respecting international laws," Sabban said, reiterating the freedom of navigation in international waters.

He downplayed concerns that a shooting war might erupt if China boards foreign ships.

"I don't think so, because anybody who goes against international law or who will violate international law will be subjected to pressure from other countries," he said.

China was earlier reported to be considering boarding foreign vessels in the West Philippine Sea, which it claims as its own.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying later said the policy will only cover waters extending 12 nautical miles from the coastline of Hainan province "to strengthen border controls over the coast and maritime management."

The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei are also claiming islands, atolls, and rocky outcroppings in the disputed area.

Seven islands and 2 reefs in the Spratlys island, which are now part of Kalayaan town in Palawan, have been claimed by the Philippines.

No new China ships seen

Meanwhile, the AFP has not seen any new ship deployed by China in the area.

"As per information from commanders, we conducted aerial recon yesterday. We did not see any of the new vessels that China said they will deploy to West Philippine Sea," he said.

He also wants the air strip at Philippines' Pagasa Island to be improved before he retires in April.

"The air strip is existing, it needs repairs. The air strip is operational, we can land our own planes there but it needs repairs due to erosion in some portions of the airstrip," Sabban said.

"This is to restore the standard airstrip that we had before and I don't think this is an issue because this structure has been there for more 40 years. So why do we have to delve on this issue when it has been there for so long?" he asked.

He said renovating the airs trip can also help develop the island.

"This will create livelihood, this will also attract tourists in that area. While other countries are promoting their own islands to become tourist destinations then we should, we might as well compete with their reefs and shoals which will definitely put us in an advantage because ours are much better than theirs," Sabban said.