US keeps eyes on Spratly deal
|Posted by Manila Mail under Articles/Stories|
By Rodney J. Jaleco
WASHINGTON -. A ranking State Department official said a joint exploration agreement in the disputed Spratly Islands should be fair to all parties, even as the US keeps a close watch of developments in the South China Sea.
â€œObviously when you reach agreements of this kind you wonâ€™t want new problems,â€ said Asst. State Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill at a press briefing.
China, the Philippines and Vietnam forged the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JSMU) in 2005, to pave the way for a peaceful resolution of their overlapping claims over the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys â€“ which include Pag-Asa Island that is garrisoned by Philippine troops â€“ is claimed wholly or in part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Covering 160,000 square kilometers of the South China Sea, the Spratlys represent a total land area of only 10 square kilometers, according to GlobalSecurity.org. It added, the Spratlys are important because â€œownership claims are used to bolster claims to the surrounding sea and its resourcesâ€.
The 2008 Defense Department report to the US Congress noted that â€œThe South China Sea plays an important role in Northeast Asian security considerations. Over 80 percent of crude oil supplies to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan flow through the South China Sea.â€
â€œI know that our embassies have followed this issue very closely,â€ Mr. Hill said. The JSMU is an offshoot of a 2002 ASEAN-China declaration that addressed a â€œcode of conductâ€ that stressed self-restraint and avoiding acts that might exacerbate tensions over the disputed isles.
But opposition solons have protested the agreement, accusing President Arroyo of violating the Constitution. They alleged the government gave away too much when it signed the JSMU, which Malacanang denies.
The Philippineâ€™s Malampaya and Camago gas fields lie in an area claimed by China.
â€œWe want to make sure this is an agreement that doesnâ€™t create any perception of unfairness on the part of another party,â€ Mr. Hill said.
US interest stems in part on a wary, cautious eye they keep on Chinese intentions in the area. The Pentagon reported to Congress that â€œmuch uncertainty surrounds Chinaâ€™s future course, in particular in the area of its expanding military power and how that power might be used.â€
Ken Bailes, press officer at the State Departmentâ€™s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said US concerns center around the peaceful resolution of conflicts and ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon report said â€œBeijing is developing capabilities for use in other contingencies, such as conflict over resources or disputed territories.â€
â€œChina has settled territorial disputes with many of its neighbors in recent years,â€ the report said, but noted that its dispute with Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea, among others, remain to be resolved.
â€œAs Chinaâ€™s economy grows, dependence on secure access to markets and natural resources, particularly metals and fossil fuels, is becoming a more significant factor shaping Chinaâ€™s strategic behavior,â€ the Pentagon report observed.