Philippines wants India at ‘head table’ to tackle China’s maritime moves

New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) Worried at China fast usurping contested islets in the South China Sea, the Philippines has urged India to “be at the head table” in regional forums to ensure that Beijing adheres to international maritime laws.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Evan Garcia, addressing an Asean-India talk here, also praised India for settling its land and maritime dispute with Bangladesh, saying India has “shown the way to peaceful resolution of disputes”, including through implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement.

He also said that India’s “expression of full understanding of the Philippines position on the South China Sea is a considerable development” in ensuring maritime and navigational rights in the sea that China lays full claim over.

Commenting on China’s “artificial island building” over the small rock features in the South China Sea that has “permanently altered the area”, Garcia said his country has launched international arbitration for upholding of rule of law.

“China’s peaceful rise is one desired by all, but this rise certainly has to be in accordance to rules based regime,” he said.

He said the Philippines is glad that India is “expressing major interest” and stressing on rules-based regime in the region.

“India is not an invited guest, it should be at the head table as a partner in arms,” he said, referring to the various regional forums where maritime and territorial disputes are taken up.

“India should be at the table where we discuss settling of these norms,” he said at the ASEAN-India Eminent Person Lecture on “India-Philippines Relations: Ways and Means of Strengthening it, on Friday, organized by the ASEAN-India Centre and think tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) at the India Habitat Centre.

Taking a swipe at China, the Filipino official said there is a “very clear attempt by one particular country to rewrite the narrative of the region, and that it is trying to determine who should be at the table and who should talk about what. India should wisely ignore this and keep doing what it is doing for common good”.

In another swipe at Beijing’s economic clout in the region, he said: “Why leave salesmanship to just one power, India can come in and sell too.”

Garcia said that in view of the “evolving landscape and seascape” in the region, India and the Philippines should look to each other as common partners and to ensure a region of greater peace and prosperity. He also suggested greater cooperation between “VIP” countries – Vietnam, India and the Philippines.

“If the world sees China as a rising power, so too does it respect India’s own remarkable ascent,” said Garcia and praised India’s “tremendous progress” in improving literacy, health, education and in emergence of a big middle class.

The Philippines and China are at loggerheads over small rock features in the South China Sea, in a zone that Manila claims as its own, that China has been swiftly developing into large bases for its navy and air force.

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