BEIJING, April 26 China accused the Philippines
on Friday of trying to legalise its occupation of islands in the
disputed South China Sea, repeating that Beijing would never
agree to international arbitration.
Frustrated with the slow pace of regional diplomacy, the
Philippines in January angered China by asking a U.N. tribunal
to order a halt to Beijing's activities that it said violated
Philippine sovereignty over the islands, surrounded by
potentially energy-rich waters.
Claims by an increasingly powerful China over most of the
South China Sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam
and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim
parts of the waters and China has a separate dispute with Japan
in the East China Sea.
Manila said on Thursday that a U.N. arbitration court had
set up the tribunal which would hear Manila's complaint, but
China said this was an attempt to steal Chinese territory.
"The Philippine side is trying to use this to negate China's
territorial sovereignty and attach a veneer of 'legality' to its
illegal occupation of Chinese islands and reefs," the Foreign
Ministry said in a statement on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
The Philippines must immediately withdraw personnel and
facilities from the islands, the ministry added, listing those
which it said Manila was occupying.
Manila asked the tribunal of the U.N. Convention on the Law
of the Sea (UNCLOS) to order a halt to China's activities.
But the convention did not apply in this case as what the
Philippines was actually asking for was a decision on
sovereignty, the ministry said.
"China's refusal to accept the Philippines' request for
arbitration has full grounding in international law," it said.
China had always believed that the two countries should
resolve their dispute through direct talks, the ministry added.
Southeast Asian nations stepped up efforts on Thursday to
engage China in talks to resolve maritime tensions, agreeing to
meet to try to reach common ground on disputed waters ahead of
planned discussions in Beijing later this year.
Efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) to craft a code of conduct to manage South China Sea
tensions all but collapsed last year at a summit chaired by
Cambodia, a close economic ally of China, when the group failed
to issue a closing statement for the first time.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)