MANILA, May 23 (Reuters) - 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 fencing.”
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)