MANILA, Philippines – Tension among claimants to the potentially oil-rich waters and land features of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) has risen to dangerous levels with incidents involving China, Philippines and Vietnam recently.
Although all claimants agreed to resolve the Spratly disputes through peaceful means, progress has been slow.
Brunei, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan claim all or part of the West Philippine Sea. Some 25 percent of the world’s shipping passes through the waters of the West Philippine Sea, thus non-littoral states also have a strong stake in preserving the freedom of navigation and use of these waters.
The agreement reached on the implementing guidelines to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) in the South China Sea by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China at the Bali meetings held last July affirmed this commitment to peaceful resolution.
The Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace, in collaboration with the Institute for South East Asian Studies of Singapore, hosted a forum on South China Sea on Oct. 16-17 at the Manila Polo Club.
The conference was aimed at clearly defining the South China Sea issue in its totality, with all concerned participating and with the goal of identifying common interests.
All stakeholders have their respective national interests to protect and promote; determining the areas where these intersect with one another would be critical. Finding such common ground could serve as the catalyst for generating win-win solutions in the long term.
Sponsors of the forum were The Philippine STAR, San Miguel Corporation, Zuellig, Philex Petroleum Corporation, Planters Development Bank, Aboitiz Foundation, Air Asia, Alsons Consolidated Resources, Ayala Corporation, Banco de Oro, Century Properties, Megaworld Corporation, Oriental Petroleum & Minerals Corporation, PHINMA Foundation, and Concepcion Industries.
The speakers were 23 notable officials and representatives from the academe from China, Australia, India, Canada, the United States, and Europe.
Former Defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro opened the forum with a closed-door informal session on “Scene Setting.”
Domingo Siazon, former secretary of Foreign Affairs, also spoke at the forum. Other speakers were Professor Chen Shiqui, former US Ambassador Frank Wisner and Professor Hasjim Dalal.
Chen is a professor at China Foreign Affairs University and at Xi’an Jiaotong University. He was a former director-general of Treaties and Law at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former ambassador to Indonesia, the United Nations and other International Organizations in Vienna.
Wisner is currently the international affairs advisor of Patton Boggs LLP, a former American ambassador to the Philippines, India and Egypt, and former undersecretary of defense and undersecretary of state. He used to be a vice-chairman of AIG.
During the Oct. 17 forum, sessions were chaired by former ASEAN Secretary General Rodolfo Severino, who is also the current head of the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS.
Former Philippine Ambassador to China Romualdo Ong led the session on “Claims and Interests.”
Another session, “Towards Peace and Prosperity in the South China Sea: Pathways for Regional Cooperation,” was chaired by Dato Timothy Ong of Brunei Darussalam, chairman of Asia Inc.
In his welcome remarks, Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo, chairman of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development, said the South China Sea was the “ideal battlefield” for China to wage small-scale war with its rival claimants.
“Here in my own country, some national and local politicians have called China a bully and urged the government to fight back and demonstrate its sovereignty. They have called for beefing up the government’s presence in the territory and granting oil exploration concessions in what is now called the West Philippine Sea,” Romulo said.
He said strategic and economic interests propel each claimant’s position. But there are other dynamics as well that influence actions and reactions by claimants which may not be as easy to rationalize and channel into peaceful discourse.
“So despite declarations of peaceful resolution, we cannot afford to keep the eye off the ball because of these dynamics,” he said.
He said the business community is aware of the significance of stability in the South China Sea.
“Conflict in the area will not benefit anyone but the harm will be widespread. World commerce will be severely impaired surely. They appreciate the value of dialogue and welcome the declaration of all claimants for peaceful resolution,” Romulo said.
Prof. Hasjim Dalal, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Jakarta, said Indonesia borders on the South China Sea but is not a participant in the multiple disputes over the Spratly Islands. He expressed alarm that the South China Sea may become the new flash point of conflicts in the area that may affect peace and stability in Southeast Asia.
After several meetings, he said discussion on territorial and sovereignty issues as well as on political and security issues among the ASEAN members and claimants have stalled.
Dr. Fraser Cameron, director of the European Union-Asia Centre in Brussels, said the European Union is not directly involved in the South China Sea dispute but is keen to promote a peaceful resolution.
“The EU believes that territorial disputes should be resolved in accordance with international law through peaceful and cooperative solutions,” Cameron said.
Barry Wain, writer at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said China is not keen on having a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.
China is supposed to convene the ASEAN-China meeting on Oct. 27-28 on freedom of navigation.
Wain pointed out that China would resort to proposing talks when Beijing is criticized for its activity in the South China Sea.
Wain said the Philippine proposal for a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation in the West Philippine Sea should be considered.
- ‘China not keen on having binding code of conduct’ (philSTAR) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Philippines seeks Asean help to blunt China ( (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- ROC stands firm on South China Sea sovereignty (Taiwan Today) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- The South China Sea Disputes: Why Conflict Is Not Inevitable? – Analysis (IDSA) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Showdown in the South China Sea (gulfnews) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Time right to develop S China Sea resources (People Daily) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)