Clinton Backs Manila in South China Sea Dispute

Posted November 16th, 2011 at 5:40 am (UTC-5)
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The United States said Wednesday that maritime disputes in the South China Sea should be settled according to the international law of the sea treaty, a position that backs the Philippines in a dispute with China.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the remark during a visit to Manila ahead of regional meetings this week in Indonesia, where the South China Sea dispute is expected to be discussed.

She said the United States does not take any position on varying claims to potentially oil- and gas-rich areas of the vital waterway. But she said no country has a right to assert its claims through intimidation or coercion. She said the competing claims should be settled according to international law as laid out in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines has complained of several incidents in which Chinese naval vessels have interfered with oil and gas exploration efforts off its shores.

The Philippines claims the right under the Law of the Sea treaty to explore for resources within 370 kilometers of its shores.

However China claims ownership of virtually the entire South China Sea on historical grounds, and says it has acted appropriately in its own sovereign territory. It says the dispute should be resolved on a bilateral basis between the two countries.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario referred to the dispute when he and Clinton signed a declaration re-affirming a 60-year-old mutual defense treaty between their countries. Like Clinton, he used the newly coined Philippine name for the portion of the South China Sea nearest its borders — the West Philippine Sea.

In her own remarks, Clinton stressed that the agreement goes beyond defense matters.

The agreement addresses maritime security and stresses the two nations' common interest in maintaining freedom of navigation across the seas.