Philippines to seek UN arbitration in South China Sea

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, July 19, 2011 (AFP) - The Philippines said Tuesday it plans to seek UN arbitration of its conflicting claims with China over parts of the South China Sea, as tensions in the resource-rich region again rose.

Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario, who is attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Bali, said Manila wants the UN to define which parts of the sea are disputed and which are not.

He said the Philippines was forced to take the arbitration option provided for in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as it does not require the agreement of the other party.

His comments mark a shift from Manila's previous stance amid mounting concern in the Philippines over what many there perceive as China's more aggressive recent posture on the issue.

Manila had earlier suggested that the Philippines and China bring the dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an independent judicial body set up by UNCLOS in 1982.

China however rejected the suggestion, preferring to deal with the issue bilaterally.

Del Rosario said that as a result "we have to look at other dispute settlement mechanisms where can do it by ourselves".

The UN Convention provides that a party to a dispute can unilaterally seek two types of arbitration as well as compulsory conciliation, Del Rosario told reporters after a meeting with his fellow ASEAN ministers.

Del Rosario also briefed ASEAN ministers in detail about a Philippine proposal to define which areas of the South China Sea are disputed.

He said it was vital to delineate the disputed areas before discussing guidelines to implement a long-discussed "code of conduct" to govern actions in the area.

Manila is proposing that the areas which are not disputed can be turned into a "zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation", according to the proposal.

China and the Philippines have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast mineral resources, as do Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent months accused China of taking increasingly aggressive actions in staking its claims in the disputed areas.

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