- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Philippines said Tuesday that it is taking its feud with China over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea to an international tribunal.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s office summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing in Manila and challenged the assertion that China’s sovereignty extends over “virtually the entire South China Sea.”

Manila says China seized control of the Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop, last year and then illegally barred the Philippines from the area. China calls the shoal Huangyan Island.

Manila wants a tribunal operating under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea to declare as “unlawful” Beijing’s actions in the disputed waters.

“The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful, negotiated settlement of its maritime disputes with China,” Mr. del Rosario said at a news conference in Manila, according to a report by The Associated Press. “To this day, a solution is still elusive.”

Ms. Ma’s office reiterated China’s position that it has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

“The Chinese side strongly holds the disputes on South China Sea should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations,” Ms. Ma said in a meeting with Theresa Lasaro, assistant secretary of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Meanwhile, a Japanese envoy visited Beijing on Tuesday for talks aimed at calming tensions over another island dispute. Beijing and Tokyo claim sovereignty over a group of five East China Sea islands, known as Diaoyu in China and as Senkaku in Japan.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the Japanese official, reiterated Tokyo’s position that the islands are Japanese territory and rejected Chinese demands that Japan acknowledge a dispute over their sovereignty.

“If warlike propaganda is any indicator, a military confrontation between China and Japan could soon erupt, and America will have to choose sides,” said John J. Tkacik Jr., director of the Future Asia Project at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

“Thus far, however, the Obama administration judges it has little influence on Beijing and instead urges Tokyo not to ‘provoke’ China. Even this is too much for the Chinese,” he added.

Beijing on Sunday lashed out at Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying she “ignores the facts and confuses right and wrong” on the island dispute with Japan.

The statement was a reaction to Mrs. Clinton’s comments after a State Department meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday. Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration opposes “any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration” of the islands.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s chief spokesman, Qin Gang, said that the Japanese government has “insisted on taking the wrong action of purchasing the Diaoyu Islands and has constantly escalated its provocation.”

“The U.S. has unshirkable historical responsibility on the Diaoyu Islands issue,” he added.

Mr. Tkacik said: “Having made his ‘pivot to Asia,’ Mr. Obama cannot afford mixed signals to an increasingly assertive China, which sees itself as Asia’s rightful hegemony, or to a cornered Japan counting on an uncertain American ally.”

“His choice will set America’s course in Asia — and China’s, as well — for the next several decades,” he added.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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