A note of unease was struck at the just-concluded dialogue between China and a number of South East Asian nations when a senior politician from Philippines said the US or the UN were welcome to intervene and resolve the ongoing tussle over a clutch of disputed islands in the South China Sea between Beijing and Manila.
The two countries are locked in a fight over the barren Scarborough Shoal (the Chinese call it Huangyan Island) in the South China Sea, a little more than 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from China. Other countries in the region also claim the islands.
Speaking at the China-Southeast Asia People-to-People Dialogue in south China's city of Nanning, senator Ferdinand R Marcos Jr of Philippines said one stumbling block against resolving the issue is China’s insistence on doing through bilateral dialogue.
The situation has changed, Marcos said. He added that the US has offered to mediate between the two countries and many groups in his country feel that it is a good idea.
Though the agreement, when it will be signed. will be between China and Philippines, other options to resolve it including involving the US, the UN and even the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the dialogue should be explored.
"All consultations should be made for a permanent solution to the dispute," said Marcos, the son of Ferdinand E Marcos, the former president of the Philippines (1965–1986).
"It is only now that the problems have become so immediate with standoffs and heated exchanges and the like, that we must find a way to at least begin to resolve the situation," Marcos told a gathering of international delegates and Communist Party of China (CPC) members including Liu Qibao, member of CPC’s political bureau.
"I know that our two countries did not enter into an agreement to establish diplomatic relations in 1975 so we can quarrel over our conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea," Marcos said, adding that the two countries should make the issue an minor one and look at other areas of cooperation like trade.
Marcos told HT later that ultimately the resolution of the problem has to be between the two countries but any help was welcome.
The summit organised by China is being seen by many of those attending it as part of the Communist country’s soft charm offensive to wind down tension over the islands in the region.
The state media, for one, reported on Marcos’s speech without carrying the part where Marcos spoke about involving other players in the negotiations; the report was all about increasing cooperation between the two countries.
(HT attended the dialogue at the invitation of People’s Daily newspaper)