Russia change mind – Pushing down Philippines & ASEAN for Sea Disputes

Russia Changes it's tone towards Philippines and ASEAN countries after Putin take office.

Previously, Russia pronounced its support to the Philippines and ASEAN countries for the disputes with China but after Putin took office, its changes it;s tone and giving favor to China's request to back them in the South China Sea Disputes.

Expressing "concern," the Russian Federation declared it is against any meddling by nations other than the claimant-countries in the South China Sea (or West Philippine Sea) territorial dispute, a Russian diplomat said over the weekend.

"This is our official position," said Russian Federation Ambassador to Manila Nikolay Kudashev told the Manila Bulletin at his official residence in Forbes Park, Makati City.

Kudashev said Russia is "mindful" of the fact that, like the United States, it is not a party to the dispute which escalated last month in a standoff between vessels of China and the Philippines at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

"Otherwise it will sound like we are interfering in the internal affairs (of the claimant countries)," he said.

This is the first time that a Russian government official has spoken directly about conflicting claims over the islands in the South China Sea claimed in whole by China and partly by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

However, Kudashev was quick to emphasize that the Russian government is also not "indifferent" to the situation in the area considering that the disputed region is very close to its border.

Kudashev said with regards to the freedom of navigation, Russia is one with the US in that they are both "concerned" about the said issue.

"We are continuously committed to the issue of freedom of navigation," he said. "We are part of this region and we believe the freedom of navigation is one of the aspects of the solution to the larger problem of the South China Sea which could be secured by the regional countries, first and foremost."

"We need secured trade, secured communication, that's for all countries like China, US, the Philippines, Singapore and for everyone," he added.

The Russian envoy said what Russia would favor is "a peaceful, negotiated solution by the regional countries, by the countries involved themselves, first and foremost, on the basis of talks and dialogue."

"You could regard it as favoring bilateral solution, if in the course of bilateral talks some other solutions would emerge we would not deny them," said Kudashev. "The UNLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) would provide a good and solid basis."

"Frankly speaking, it is impossible to come to any conclusion, to any solution without talking to one another," the Russian envoy said as he noted that the priority lies with the countries of the region themselves.

With regard to the "outsiders" or countries not directly involved in the dispute such as the United States, Russia, and Europe, Kudashev said that they all possess "convincing legal experience, legal practice and maybe even some ideas."

"If they are being invited by consensus to enrich the legal process, the negotiating process, then it is okay," the ambassador said. "Well, otherwise we would prefer the regional countries to come to a consensus first," he added.

Russia and China are known to agree entirely with each other's positions on certain issues including the crisis in Syria and on North Korea's nuclear program, including a host of other things.

Just last month, both countries undertook their first joint naval exercise following four military exercises involving the two nations since 2005.

The April 22-27 drill took place in the Yellow Sea off China's east coast and involved a total of 16 vessels and two submarines from the Chinese navy and four warships from the Russian navy's Pacific Fleet as well as three supply ships which was summoned for the exercise.

The drill was supposed to focus on joint maritime air defense and defense of marine traffic arteries, including subjects of joint escort, maritime search and rescue, anti-submarine tactics as well as joint effort to rescue hijacked vessels.

Apart from the existing fishing ban in the Panatag Shoal, Malacañang is now discouraging any "patriotic journey" to the disputed area to avoid the escalation of tension with China following the botched trip of a former marine officer in the area.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda urged people to show their patriotism by rallying behind the government's efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the territorial row.

Former Marine officer Nicanor Faeldon earlier planned to visit Panatag Shoal to protest China's claim over the place but was blocked by President Benigno S. Aquino III at the last minute.

The President phoned Faeldon, who had wanted to raise the Philippine flag on the shoal, and asked him to call off his voyage amid diplomatic efforts to resolve the tense standoff.

"I think we can show our patriotism by supporting the position of our government and that would be sufficient expression of support, sufficient expression of patriotism," Lacierda said.

Several recent developments suggest that the situation at the disputed shoal could be much more dangerous, noted an American conservative think tank based in Washington DC.

Dean Cheng, of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, said American policymakers would do well to keep a close eye on these latest developments in the South China Sea involving China and the Philippines, a formal US security treaty ally.

"It could have major implications for the US," Chen said in his paper "Standoff Between China and an American Ally in the Pacific."

Chen cited recent reports that China, the fourth largest source of tourists to the Philippines, has halted tours and called upon Manila to safeguard the safety of those Chinese tourists already in the archipelago.

At the same time, the Chinese have begun to quarantine shipments of Philippine bananas on the grounds that they may be carrying agricultural pests.

Chen said that although neither of these developments might be directly linked to the Scarborough Shoal situation, "they smack of an attempt to bring China's economic power to bear on a diplomatic cause--similar to the heavier-handed economic measures the Chinese took against Japan during the 2010 Senkaku/Diaoyutai incident."

These group of uninhabited islands located in the East China Sea are being claimed by Japan and China.

At that time, Chen said China cut off all shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan, seeking to exploit its dominant position in that market.

Thus far, Chen stated that the Chinese navy has not played a "direct role" as the Chinese vessels accused of encroaching into Philippine territory have all come from civilian agencies.

However, China has undeniable assets at sea, including a naval task force comprising two guided missile destroyers, two frigates, and an amphibious ship operating near Okinawa on exercises, he said.

"Any diversion of this force to Scarborough Shoal would constitute a major escalation of the situation," Chen pointed out.

With the Chinese leadership focused on their "internal succession struggles, to the point of possibly delaying the scheduled Party Congress when the new leadership will be officially announced, Chen said few senior leaders are likely devoting their full attention to this situation.

He said recent reports that head of internal security Zhou Yongkong has been forced to relinquish his powers as part of the ongoing Bo Xilai drama only further underscores "how many things are on Chinese leaders' plate s— and therefore how little attention they may be paying to this."

"Given the internal political situation, though, it is unlikely that anyone would be willing to appear 'weak' by being conciliatory," said Chen. "This may explain the Chinese rejection of the Philippine proposal for arbitration of the dispute under the Law of the Sea Treaty, which both Manila and Beijing have signed."

"One would hope that both parties to the dispute at Scarborough Shoal find a peaceful, face-saving way to back out of this crisis," he added. "But it bears watching by American policymakers in case this does not prove to be the case." (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)

Read related: Manila Bulletin

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