MANILA, Philippines, April 18 (UPI) -- The Philippine government has asked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to help settle regional disputes over the Spratly Islands, officials said.
The call to action was prompted after tensions grew between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal, a small atoll among the 750 islands that comprise the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea, The Philippine Star reported Tuesday.
The dispute began when the Philippine navy boarded and inspected eight Chinese private fishing vessels at the island. China claims it owns the island, while the Philippines says the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea included the island in a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Filipino Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, asked that ASEAN step in and help the two countries reach a settlement, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Citing the ASEAN Summit held this month in Cambodia, Hernandez said "we asked ASEAN to take the lead in resolving the West Philippine Sea issue and to bring the Spratlys claimants together towards a rules-based, multilateral and peaceful resolution of the issue."
The Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are among the Spratlys' claimants.
"We also emphasized at the summit the centrality of ASEAN with respect to the drafting of the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea incorporating key elements to include a dispute settlement mechanism and an administrative structure to implement them," Hernandez told the Inquirer.
Hernandez stressed the dispute over Scarborough Shoal was "not the sum total of Philippines-China relations."
"We have deep and broad relations with China and we are committed to raise this to the next higher level," he said.