Home Top News Thailand offers to work with China, Philippines to resolve sea dispute

Thailand offers to work with China, Philippines to resolve sea dispute

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FILE PHOTO of BRP Sierra Madre taken March 29, 2014. — REUTERS

By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

THAILAND is ready to help the Philippines and China peacefully resolve their sea dispute and ease tensions in the waterway, the country’s top diplomat said on Thursday.

“I convey Thailand’s support for peaceful solutions through dialogues and diplomacy and express readiness to work with all relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and promote win-win cooperation in accordance with international law,” Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Maris Sangiampongsa told a news briefing in Makati City.

This comes after Manila and Beijing resumed talks this week to ease tensions in the waterway, days after a standoff at Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines grounded the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-era ship in 1999 to assert its sea claim.

The country is hosting the latest round of talks between the two countries under their bilateral consultation mechanism, a format intended to address South China Sea disputes.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo said he shared Manila’s position on the dispute with his Thai counterpart, citing a 2016 United Nations-backed tribunal’s ruling that voided China’s claim over the waterway.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the South China Sea.

“I reaffirmed the Philippines’ continued commitment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) commitment to centrality and ASEAN’s goal of peace and stability in the region,” he told the same briefing.

The Philippines “is making progress and was moving forward” in easing tensions with its neighbor, Mr. Manalo told reporters on the sidelines of the briefing.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday night urged the Philippines to stop its “maritime infringement” and provocation in the South China Sea, hours after the dialogue.

The bilateral meeting was held weeks after a June 17 standoff at Second Thomas Shoal in which Chinese forces with bladed weapons boarded Philippine rubber boats on a resupply mission and looted rifles.

Philippine Navy personnel fought with bare hands and one of them lost a thumb after the rubber boat he was in was rammed, according to the Philippine military.

In mid-May, Beijing’s Coast Guard seized food and supplies meant for Filipino troops stationed at the dilapidated outpost at the shoal, which Manila calls Ayungin.

Efforts to schedule a bilateral meeting between the neighbors to manage tensions at sea started as early as May, according to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.

ASEAN and China have been in talks to craft a code of conduct in the South China Sea since 2002.

In November, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said he had approached Malaysia and Vietnam to discuss crafting the code, citing limited progress in striking a broader regional pact with China.

Also on Thursday, Mr. Marcos vowed to boost support for the Philippine military on the cybersecurity front, as the nation beefs up digitalization efforts.

Mr. Marcos at a mid-year command conference of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vowed to support the AFP “in its bid to adapt to new tactics against cybersecurity threats that become crucial in protecting Filipinos from external and internal threats,” the presidential palace said in a statement after the meeting.

The AFP has formed a unit focusing on cyberattacks.

The military got a moral boost from the President as he “lauded its men and women for their gallantry in fighting the local insurgency and defending the national territory,” the palace said.

During the conference, ground commanders briefed the President about their operations and assessment of internal and external security threats. He was also briefed about war games with the United States called Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder).

Several government websites were hacked in recent months. The hackers were linked to Chinese entities though not necessarily the Chinese government.

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