Kamala in Palawan: The Hague ruling must be respected

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan — The 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration decision rejecting China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and upholding the Philippines exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the area must be respected by all nations, United States Vice President Kamala Harris said Tuesday.

Harris made the speech on board BRP Teresa Magbanua flanked by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, the frontline responders against aggression and incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

“The United States is proud of our longstanding ties with the people of the Philippines. I am here in Palawan to underscore the importance of our partnership in order to create economic opportunities, protect coastal ecosystems, maintain peace and stability, and uphold international rules and norms here in the South China Sea and around the world. To the Philippine Coast Guard, you are on the frontlines of standing up for the international rules-based order,” said Harris, the highest ranking US government official to visit Palawan.

“As you patrol these waters, you uphold the rules and norms that are vital to the prosperity of the Filipino people, and people around the world. As the United States has long made clear: We support the 2016 ruling of the UN Arbitral Tribunal, which delivered a unanimous and final decision firmly rejecting China’s expansive South China Sea maritime claims. The tribunal’s decision is legally-binding, and must be respected,” she stressed.

Upholding international rules and norms, Harris said, is tantamount to supporting the lives and livelihoods of people throughout the region.

“We must stand up for principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and throughout the Indo-Pacific,” she said.

“The United States- and the broader international community -have a profound stake in the future of this region. America’s prosperity relies on the billions of dollars that flow through these waters every day. And we are proud to work with you in your mission. As an ally, the United States stands with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea,” she added.

While The Hague-based Arbitration court already junked China’s expansive nine-dash theory claiming the entirety of South China Sea islands, Beijing has refused to recognize the Philippines’ unprecedented legal victory to this day.

Harris then noted that such defiance of The Hague court ruling and other laws have huge consequences for the communities.

“The vitality of [fishing] communities is at risk. They have seen the consequences when foreign vessels enter Philippine waters and illegally deplete the fishing stock, when they harass and intimidate local fishers, when they pollute the ocean, and destroy the marine ecosystem. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated, fishing are far too common across the world’s oceans. It presents a direct threat to coastal ecosystems and economies,” she said.

Harris then said the US government is proud to have a strong partnership with the Philippines, including a recent joint training aboard BRP Teresa Magbanua of PCG and American service members, and that Washington is stepping up efforts to provide countries in the region with a wider and more accurate picture of their territorial waters.

She cited the Indo-Pacific Partnership For Maritime Domain Awareness launched by US President Joe Biden in May which uses space-based platforms to deliver a common operating picture of Indo-Pacific waterways, and to promote transparency and aid US allies in protecting vulnerable fisheries, responding to humanitarian disasters, as well as detecting and countering illicit activities.

“I am pleased to report that the Philippines is already receiving this stream of near-real-time data, alongside other partners here in Southeast Asia. And we plan to increase this work in the coming months, to include launching new satellites into orbit in December to expand this program,” she said.

“This is how I see it: to protect the economic vitality of these communities, to protect the ecosystems they rely on, and to protect lives and livelihoods, we must uphold international rules and norms,” she added.

China on Tuesday said the United States’ interactions with countries in the region should not be “damaging” to the interests of other countries.

“We are not against the US’ interaction with regional countries. But it should be good for regional peace and stability and not damaging to other countries’ interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, according to a tweet by the Chinese Embassy.–AOL, GMA Integrated News

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