VATICAN CITY — VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has led tens of thousands of people at the Vatican in silent prayer for the victims of the typhoon that has ravaged the Philippines.
The pope told a crowd of pilgrims, tourists and Romans in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday that he wanted to assure the people of the Philippines and surrounding region that he feels close to them. He lamented the high toll of dead and the enormous damage, then requested silent prayer for “our brothers and sisters.” Francis also said: “let us try to get our concrete aid” to those suffering from the storm.
The Philippines has the largest number of Catholics in Asia, and Filipinos are one of Rome’s biggest immigrant communities.
China has condemned the Philippines over a Navy warship grounded on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), noting that the illegal grounding of the vessel on the Ayungin Shoal (Ren’ai Reef) is a “serious encroachment of territorial sovereignty.”
It also warned the Philippine government not to stir up the situation in the South China Sea any further.
Observers said Beijing acted in response to an attempt by the Philippines to assert territorial claims by keeping its warship stranded on the reef since 1999.
The Navy is maintaining troops in the area with grounded BRP Sierra Madre as barracks.
“China’s resolution and will to safeguard its territorial sovereignty is unswerving,” Xinhua quoted Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, as saying.
He branded as groundless the Philippines claim that Chinese vessels have threatened to cut off supplies of water and food to its military staff at the reef.
“Chinese naval patrols in the area are justifiable,” he added.
After the warship was grounded on the reef, Beijing repeatedly asked Manila to retrieve it, but the Philippines ignored the request despite having promised to tow the ship away.
Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, “The Philippine’s logic is ludicrous in calling its grounded ship a symbol of occupation while it is in China’s inherent territory.”
The shoal and the lives of the troops guarding it were thrust into the global spotlight this week after the Philippines said a Chinese warship was “illegally and provocatively” circling the area.
It was the latest in a series of aggressive steps by China in recent years to assert its claim over the South China Sea that have rattled Manila, with others including the Chinese occupation of another Filipino-claimed shoal.
China says it has sovereign rights over nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters far away from its main landmass and approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.
“Multiple spaces” are flooded aboard the minesweeper Guardian, still stranded on a reef in the Philippines since Jan. 17.
While the ship’s condition remains stable, a U.S. destroyer has arrived on the scene in the Sulu Sea and a salvage team headed by a rear admiral is being established as more ships and assets head to the area.
Weather conditions remain rough, and the ship, once pointed straight into the reef with her bow hard aground, has swung broadside on, where most of the starboard hull is in contact with the coral.
As of Saturday night Eastern Standard Time, the ship experienced a “slight increase to a port list,” according to the Navy. But as of Sunday night Philippine time, there was no evidence the ship was taking on more water. Concerns persist, however, that the ship will sustain further damage.
The Philippines filed a case Tuesday against China before a United Nations tribunal, saying it had exhausted “almost all political and diplomatic avenues” to settle a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said he summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing to advise her about Manila’s decision and to hand her a diplomatic note containing the country’s challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims.
The note also urged China to desist from violating the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction.
“This afternoon, the Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an arbitral tribunal under… the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea,” Del Rosario said in a press briefing after his meeting with Ma. Del Rosario said that since 1995, the Philippines has exhausted almost “all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China.”
“On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. [However, up until] this day, a solution is still elusive,” he said.
Filipinos have settled on Thitu Island as a means to strengthen the country’s claim on the Spratlys
Thitu Island is at the centre of one of the biggest territorial disputes in the world.
It is part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which are believed to be sitting on billions of dollars’ worth of oil and gas reserves.
Six countries claim ownership of the tiny archipelago, including the Philippines, which has people living on Thitu Island as a means to strengthen its claim on the Spratlys.
Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan reports from the Spratlys in the South China Sea.
As the death toll from typhoon Bopha (local name Pablo) increased to 418 on Friday and is still rising, experts and analysts say killer typhoons that hit the Philippines are caused by the climate change.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, the Philippines had the world’s highest death toll caused by weather-related disasters last year.
A total of 1,659 people died from typhoons, floods, landslides, and heavy rains in 2011 in the Philippines, the study released Wednesday by Germanwatch on the sidelines of a major UN climate change conference now ongoing in Doha, Qatar, said.
The two-week Doha conference, attended by climate officials from some 200 countries, is being held while Philippine authorities are still feverishly searching for more victims of typhoon Bopha.
The official death toll from the typhoon as of Friday morning has been placed by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the government agency monitoring disasters in the Philippines, at 418.
Pope Benedict XVI has appointed six priests from non-European countries to be cardinals, at a service in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica.
The cardinals, the closest aides of the Pope, come from the Philippines, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Colombia and the US.
Last month, Japanese activists planted their country’s flag on one of the Senkaku Islands (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands), a chain claimed by China, Japan, and Taiwan. The move sparked protests in China and inspired headlines in the West, but the provocation was hardly surprising. The three bodies of water in East Asia — the Sea of Japan (bounded by Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Russia), the East China Sea (bordered by China and Japan’s Ryukyu Islands), and the South China Sea (surrounded by Borneo, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam) — are home to hundreds of disputed islands, atolls, and shoals. And in the last few years, the diplomatic and militaristic struggles to assert authority have become increasingly brazen.
On one level, patriotism is making things worse. Japan’s tussle with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, for example, is a touchstone for those in Japan who fear China’s growing political and economic might. Likewise, South Korea’s assertion of control over the Dokdo Islands (known as the Takeshima Islands in Japan) is viewed at home as a patriotic riposte to Japan’s 40-year occupation of the peninsula.
Beyond symbolism, however, these three bodies of water flow over East Asia’s Outer Continental Shelf and the submerged deltas of many major river systems — geological features that suggest the presence of vast deposits of oil and natural gas. Yet, although the resources have been there for millennia, it is only in the last decade that the energy sector has even started to develop extractive technologies that will eventually make these reserves accessible.
Nobody wants to lose out, especially because East Asia is energy hungry. The region is home to only three percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and eight percent of its natural gas reserves. China, for example, already imports 58 percent of the oil and 22 percent of the gas it uses each year. Japan is far more dependent, importing nearly all of its oil and gas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, in the next 25 years, Asia’s energy consumption is expected to grow faster than anywhere else in the world. Eager for energy security, these countries have long sought to exploit their offshore oil and gas reserves.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is headed to Beijing. She has promised to take a strong message to Chinese leaders on the issue of resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Clinton wants China to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct for managing the disputes, in hopes of preventing continued flare-ups in the resource-rich region. Beijing, which claims nearly the entire sea, has resisted signing such a code. It instead prefers to deal individually with rival claimants individually, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Before leaving Indonesia for China Tuesday, Clinton said Southeast Asian nations must present a unified front in dealing with the disputes to “literally calm the waters.” She made her comments following meetings in Jakarta with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan.