MANILA May 23 The Philippines blamed a slowdown
in talks on ending territorial disputes in the South China Sea
on "construction" changing the ground rules, an apparent
reference to China amid a growing dispute between Beijing and
some of its neighbours.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to
be rich in energy resources, rejecting rival claims to parts of
it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Tension rose this month when China moved a giant oil rig
into an area also claimed by Vietnam. The Philippines, United
States and Vietnam denounced China's actions.
China says that the South China Sea issue should be resolved
via direct talks between the parties concerned, and has bristled
at what it sees as unwarranted U.S. interference.
The Philippines is pushing for a "code of conduct".
"The code of conduct has been long in coming, we have been
discussing this for the past seven or eight years, and we're
also wondering why there is a delay," Philippine Foreign
Ministry Undersecretary Laura del Rosario said.
"Are we changing the environment so that when we are ready
to discuss the code of conduct, the environment has changed?"
Del Rosario, speaking at a security outlook session of the
World Economic Forum, said there had been "changes" on the
ground since talks began, without specifically mentioning China.
"There are a lot of build-ups, a lot of construction going
on, until we realize people are already doing some kind of a
In 2002, China and the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) signed a Declaration of Conduct of Parties in
the South China Sea, a non-binding code which has not stopped
China from taking control of some islands.
Last week, the Philippine foreign ministry released aerial
surveillance pictures of a reef showing what it said was Chinese
reclamation and the building of what appeared to be an airstrip.
A Malaysian diplomatic source said China was deliberately
slowing down the talks.
"China has been reluctant to even talk about the code of
conduct," the diplomatic source said. "It's a carrot to dangle
in the distance. We are dealing with a superpower."
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Additinal Reporting by Stuart
Grudgings in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing by Nick Macfie)