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.