Latest on the China – Philippines standoff: Meeting of Philippines Foreign Secretary del Rosario and Defense Secretary Gazmin in Washington D.C.

The Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were in Washington D.C. yesterday, April 30th, 2012  to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

It was a historic first “2+2” or bilateral meeting of U.S. and Philippine defense and foreign affairs leaders.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, far right, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Filipino Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, far left, and Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pose for an official photo before a meeting at the State Department in Washington, D.C., April 30, 2012. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

After the meeting, they made statements for the media, and then took a few questions from the press.

Included in this post are parts of the introduction from Secretary of State Clinton, press questions, and answers from Philippine Foreign Secretary del Rosario as well as Philippine Defense Secretary Gazmin on the Scarborough Shoal standoff, and the Philippines’ position.

Please see the earlier post on this topic for the definition of UNCLOS.

Introduction from Secretary of State Clinton:

…Today we held the first ever 2+2 meeting between the United States and the Philippines, a testament to our shared commitment to write a new chapter in the partnership between our two countries.

With the growing security and economic importance of the Asia Pacific, the United States is actively working to strengthen our alliances, build new partnerships, and engage more systematically in the region’s multilateral institutions.

At the heart of this strategy is our effort to deepen and broaden our alliance with our friend and treaty ally, the Philippines. This alliance is rooted not just in a deep history of shared democratic values but in a wide range of mutual concerns. And today we had a chance to cover a number of them.

First we discussed our bilateral military cooperation. Our alliance has helped keep both of our countries secure for more than 60 years, and it has been a bulwark of peace and stability in Asia. Today the United States reaffirms our commitment and obligations under the mutual defense treaty.

We also discussed steps we are taking to ensure that our countries are fully capable of addressing both the challenges and the opportunities posed in the region in the 21st century. We need to continue working together to counter violent extremism, to work on addressing natural disasters, maritime security, and transnational crime.

 Press Question / Answer:

PRESS QUESTION: Mr. del Rosario, the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal is into its fourth week now. Did you get an unequivocal assurance from the U.S. it will come to the aid of the Philippines if shots are fired? And what was the type or form?

Also, short of shots being fired, how do you see the endgame of Scarborough being played out if China cannot be persuaded diplomatically to withdraw its vessels from the area?

SECRETARY DEL ROSARIO: Those are several questions rolled into one, my friend, but let me begin from your last question.

We do have a three-track approach to endeavoring to solve the problem that we currently have with China in the Scarborough Shoal. It encompasses three tracks.

The first track is the political track. We are pursuing the ASEAN as a framework for a solution to this problem through a code of conduct that we are trying to put together and ultimately approve. Hopefully that will quiet the situation.

Secondly, we are pursuing a legal track, and the legal track involves our pursuing a dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS. There are five of them. We think that we can avail of one or two of those mechanisms, even without the presence of China.

Thirdly, we are pursuing a diplomatic approach, such as the one that we are undertaking, which is to have consultations with China in an attempt to defuse the situation.

In terms of U.S. commitment, I think the U.S. has been very clear that they do not get involved in territorial disputes, but that they are firm in terms of taking a position for a – towards a peaceful settlement of the disputes in the South China Sea towards a multilateral approach and towards the use of a rules-based regime in accordance with international law, specifically UNCLOS. They have expressed that they will honor their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

PRESS QUESTION: My question is for Secretary Gazmin. Secretary, in light of the current Chinese-Philippines standoff in Scarborough Shoal, what kind of assistance have you asked to bolster Manila’s ability to patrol its waters and to deter what you call intrusions?

SECRETARY GAZMIN: Thank you for the question. The assistance we have sought is to help us bring the case to international legal bodies, so that the approach is the legal rules-based approach in resolving the issue in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

It is worth reading the full remarks after the meeting, from the U.S. Department of State website (visit here).

Secretary Clinton was scheduled to leave for Bejing the evening after the meeting, so it will be interesting to see what develops in the next few days.

It certainly is a sensitive topic for the U.S. – China, as well as Philippines – China relationships, not to mention other countries that have an interest in the South China Sea, and China’s territorial waters claims.

U.S. Coast: Comparison of shark attacks vs. number of lightning fatalities

Over the last few years, there have been shark attacks off a California state-run beach near where we live.  The most recent attack involved a 27-year-old surfer, in October of last year. Thankfully, the attacks were not fatal.

Of course if you stay out of the water, your shark attack chances are zero.  But for those who love spending time and activities in the ocean, and have a  fear of sharks, this post lists statistics and information that should allay your shark attack fears.

Shark photo from U.S. – NOAA website

Background, from the Ichthyology Department, Florida Museum of Natural History:

Of the over 375 different species of sharks found in the world’s oceans, only about 30 have been reported to ever attack a human. Of these, only about a dozen should be considered particularly dangerous when encountered. The shark species responsible for most unprovoked attacks on humans are the white (Carcharodon carcharias), tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier), and bull (Carcharhinus leucas). All sharks, large and small, are however predators and could be capable of inflicting wounds if provoked. They should all be treated with respect when encountered.

The chances of being attacked by a shark are very small compared to other animal attacks, natural disasters, and ocean-side dangers. Many more people drown in the ocean every year than are bitten by sharks. The few attacks that occur every year are an excellent indication that sharks do not feed on humans and that most attacks are simply due to mistaken identity. For more information on the relative risk of shark attacks to humans…click here (shark attack FAQ).

And in case you have not yet heard — at least here in the U.S. — you are more likely to get hit and killed by lightning, than attacked and killed by a shark.

In the last 50 years, there were 1,970 lightning fatalities, compared to 26 shark attack fatalities (out of 974 known shark attacks). I hope that makes you less afraid of being attacked by a shark while playing in the ocean.  After all, that is over 50 years of data!

Details are listed on the table below.

NOTES: California, Florida and Hawaii have the longest saltwater shorelines — and California and Florida are among the most populous states in the U.S.— so it makes sense that there are more attacks (and fatalities) for these states.

Florida’s coastline is 1,350 miles (2,170 km), California is 840 miles (1,350 km), Hawaii is at 750 miles (1210 km), based on large-scale nautical charts.

Coastal United States: 1959-2010

State Period Number of
Number of
Number of
Shark Attack
Alabama 1959-2010 109 5 0
California 1959-2010 30 89 7
Connecticut 1959-2010 17 1 0
Delaware 1959-2010 15 3 0
Florida 1959-2010 459 603 9
Georgia 1959-2010 111 10 0
Hawaii 1959-2010 0 97 6
Louisiana 1959-2010 139 1 0
Maine 1959-2010 27 1 0
Maryland 1959-2010 126 0 0
Massachusetts 1959-2010 30 2 0
Mississippi 1959-2010 104 1 0
New Hampshire 1959-2010 8 0 0
New Jersey 1959-2010 68 8 0
New York 1959-2010 139 3 0
North Carolina 1959-2010 193 39 1
Oregon 1959-2010 8 22 1
Rhode Island 1959-2010 5 0 0
South Carolina 1959-2010 98 51 0
Texas 1959-2010 213 32 1
Virginia 1959-2010 66 5 1
Washington 1959-2010 5 1 0

TOTALS 1,970 974 26
Number per Year (average) 37.9 18.7 0.5
 Table Source: Ichthyology Department – Florida Museum of Natural History
Source of lightning data:Lightning Fatalities, Injuries and Damage Reports in the United States from 1959-1994, NOAA. The lightning fatality data was collected by NOAA and originates from the monthly and annual summaries compiled by the National Weather Service and published in monthly issues of Storm Data. The 1995 through 2010 data was tabulated with data from Storm Data.Source of shark attack data: International Shark Attack File, 10 February 2011.

Related Links:

See list of U.S. states by coastlines, here.

Visit the Shark Attack FAQ page, Florida Museum of Natural History

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Shark Facts: Do sharks eat people?

So did it work?  I know I am less afraid of sharks and shark attacks, now that I have some facts. How about you?