US presses sea code of conduct

Posted at 01/15/14 2:19 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The United States yesterday stressed the need for freedom of navigation as it renewed its call for a maritime code of conduct between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China after Beijing announced it would impose fishing restrictions in disputed waters.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg reiterated Washington’s expression of concern over China’s unilateral declaration that it would impose fishing restrictions.

“It’s not done in consultation with other countries. It’s not done in the context of the Code of Conduct which we have urged ASEAN and China to develop,” Goldberg told The STAR yesterday as he called for “rules-based” kinds of activities to ease tension in the South China Sea.

Goldberg issued the statement as China yesterday clarified the fisheries restriction imposed by Hainan province, saying it was merely implementing an old law.

Manila earlier said it would not recognize China’s fisheries regulation and renewed its call for Beijing to abide by international rules.

Last week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described China’s move as “provocative and potentially dangerous.”

Beijing’s move closely followed its declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea covering areas claimed by Japan.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea which lies within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Goldberg reaffirmed yesterday his government’s support for Manila’s peaceful modes of seeking to resolve the territorial dispute, including taking the case to the United Nations for international arbitration of the country’s maritime entitlements.

The arbitration has been rejected by Beijing, which prefers to settle all overlapping maritime claims bilaterally.

“We all should be working towards peaceful legal, diplomatic solutions,” Goldberg told The STAR. “The Philippines I think should be congratulated because those are the avenues that they are taking to try to resolve (disputes). The United States certainly supports that effort.”

He emphasized that while the US has no territorial claims in the region, “we have a deep interest in free navigation in the air and in the sea.”

“We are all concerned about miscalculations and unilateral actions in the sea and air around the entire part of East Asia – not just Southeast Asia, it’s East Asia as well – that will lead to any escalations,” Goldberg said.

How to deal with Beijing in the territorial dispute has been a divisive issue within ASEAN.