A visiting U.S. congressional delegation on Tuesday backed the Philippine government’s decision to bring its long standing territorial rift with China before a United Nations arbitration body.
A five-man US delegation led by Congressman Edward Royce (R, California), chairman of the House committee on Foreign Affairs, “expressed their full support” to Manila’s efforts “to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner and in accordance to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” said Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta.
“There were some discussion on the details of our actions and they were very interested in the merits of our arguments. They’re very supportive of it,” Sorreta told reporters after the group met Philippine officials led by Secretary Albert del Rosario at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The US lawmakers’ backing is among the first foreign expression of support to the Philippine government’s filing last week of an arbitration case before the U.N. to try to declare China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea, part of which is known in the Philippines as West Philippine Sea.
Royce said China should participate in the legal process.
“It is best that China joins the process so that we can move forward under international law and have an objective resolution to the problem,” Royce said in a chance interview.
“We always believe that it’s in everyone’s interest to resolve these issues through dialogue. We want to calm the tensions, we want this approached from the standpoint of diplomacy,” he said.
China has yet to officially declare if it would get involved in the landmark case, Sorreta said.
After Beijing, the U.S. delegation would travel to Beijing and would likely discuss the territorial disputes with Chinese officials, Sorreta said.
Other members of the US delegation are Representatives Tom Marino (R, Pennsylvania), Eliot Engel (D, New York), Vern Buchanan (r, Florida), and Matt Salmon (R, Arizona).
“They are very, very interested in the issue. They asked us, they asked the Secretary for details and the Secretary briefed them. They are very interested in the peaceful resolution of this issue,” Sorreta said.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia, who was present at the meeting, said Del Rosario explained to the US lawmakers that Manila needed to go on a legal track because the country’s efforts at diplomacy and moves to settle it through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), “have not yielded any results.”
Manila has maintained that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes through a legal framework such as the UNCLOS.
UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.