MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines told China it plans to take their Spratly Islands dispute to a U.N. tribunal in trying to resolve their conflicting claims peacefully, the Philippine foreign secretary said Monday.
At their meeting in Beijing last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi did not respond on China’s thoughts about the Philippine plan, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
“The Chinese position has not changed,” del Rosario told a news conference. “Our position also has not changed. Our claims are based on international law.”
Both sides did agree the disputes should not damage overall relations, del Rosario said.
President Benigno Aquino III plans to visit China in late August or early September. The nations are trying to cool tensions after the Philippines alleged Chinese forces repeatedly intruded into Manila-claimed Spratly areas since February.
The chain of barren, largely uninhabited islands, reefs and banks in the South China Sea are claimed entirety or partly by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei. They are believed to be rich in oil and natural gas and straddle a busy international sea lane.
The Spratlys are regarded as a potential flashpoint for armed conflict.
In one of the most serious incidents, Philippine officials said a Chinese naval vessel allegedly fired to scare away Filipino fishermen from Jackson Atoll, near the Spratlys.
In March, Chinese patrol boats threatened a Filipino oil exploration ship into leaving the Reed Bank, which the Philippine government has said is within its regular territorial waters and not part of the Spratlys.
Yang said there were no intrusions because those waters belonged to China, del Rosario said. “Of course, we disputed their position,” he said.
Del Rosario did not elaborate on what the Philippines intends to raise before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, which decides cases stemming from the 1982 U.N. convention ratified by both countries.
Two Filipino diplomats said the Philippines intends to ask the U.N. tribunal if China’s claim to the entire South China Sea conforms to the U.N. convention. That claim, which surfaced in 2009 as a map China submitted to the U.N., is rejected by the Philippines and other claimantsm.
The Spratlys has a history of deadly territorial clashes. In the worst fighting, Chinese and Vietnamese navies fought at Johnson Reef in the Spratlys in 1988 in a fierce battle that sank several Vietnamese boats and killed more than 70 Vietnamese sailors.