MANILA: A Philippine government-commissioned survey has shown strong support among Filipinos to a decision to legally challenge China’s massive territorial claims in the South China Sea before an international arbitration tribunal, an official said Monday.
Independent pollster Social Weather Stations said 81 percent of 1,550 Filipinos it surveyed supported the government’s decision to bring the long-raging territorial disputes before an arbitration body backed by the United Nations. The poll was taken by face-to-face interviews nationwide Dec. 11-16. Its sampling margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the strong public support bolstered the government’s resolve to pursue the legal battle with the Asian superpower.
“We are in a way empowered and encouraged by this result,” Hernandez said in a news conference, where he and SWS officials presented the survey results.
The survey findings, he said, showed Filipinos “are behind this decision of the government to pursue a peaceful resolution of the disputes based on the rule of law.”
China has ignored the Philippines’ defiant move, insisting on one-on-one negotiation to resolve regional territorial conflicts. Such a negotiation, which would give China an advantage because of its sheer size, has been rejected by the Philippines.
China and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims across the busy and resource-rich South China Sea, with China and Taiwan claiming the largest swathe of the strategic waters.
In its complaint, the Philippines listed several aggressive moves it alleged were launched by China in recent years to fortify its territorial claims, including the occupation of South China Sea islands and the enactment of a Chinese law that allows Chinese patrol vessels to block and board foreign ships passing through Chinese-claimed waters.
The Philippines was ready to submit its legal defense and evidence before the tribunal before a March 30 deadline, Hernandez said.