THE Philippines called on the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) not to be cowed by China’s bullying and stand united in taking a decisive role to resolve the worsening disputes in the South China Sea.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario emphasized that the regional bloc “is now at a critical junction of playing a positive and meaningful role to contribute in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the West Philippine Sea or the erstwhile South China Sea.”
“Asean must play a decisive role at this time if it desires to realize its aspirations for global leadership,” said del Rosario on Tuesday in his speech at the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
The worsening disputes in the South China Sea where claimant China has been aggressively developing several islands dominate the agenda of the Asean Leaders Summit and Related Meetings in Bali this week. Asean groups four claimant countries to the Spratlys—the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei.
Del Rosario maintained that even without the support of Asean, the Philippines will continue to pursue the framework of establishing a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation (ZoPFFC) “at every opportunity as well as to use appropriate avenues to exhaust all available means to settle the disputes within Asean.”
He stressed that the proposal will clarify and segregate the disputed land features from the non-disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
He said Asean should consider seriously the proposal of the Philippines to segregate disputed from undisputed islands in the South China Sea by adopting ZoPFFC, a move that would consequently quash China’s increasing military presence and activities in the disputed islands.
Del Rosario said since the Philippines opened the initiative of adopting the ZoPFFC at the Asean Regional Forum in Bali in July, members have not acted on the proposal. The foreign ministers he said simply tasked maritime legal experts to study the Philippine paper.
The ZoPFFC also counters China’s claim that its historical ownership of the entire South China Sea gives it dominant rights.
While the Asean meeting of maritime and legal experts was being held in Manila in September, China’s foreign minister warned members of the regional bloc not to participate in the event or suffer the consequences. As a result, Laos and Cambodia did not send their delegations.
China signed a free-trade deal with Asean members and key trading partner agreements with individual member-countries.
The Asean maritime and legal experts also agreed that ZoPFFC could be taken into account by the Asean senior officials meeting (SOM) in the implementation of the Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
“We have been given the impression that political and economic considerations had hindered a fruitful and mutually acceptable outcome on the discussions of the ZoPFFC,” said del Rosario, lamenting that, “there was no full participation of the Asean member-states in the Asean Maritime Legal Experts’ Meeting thus making it difficult to reach a consensus.”
Del Rosario said it is about time Asean members “resolve sensitive issues decisively without letting such issues affect the progress of bilateral and multilateral relations.”
He said the ZoPFFC proposal is consistent with the rules-based framework of managing disputes, which form an integral part of the proposed implementing rules of the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
The adoption of the implementing rules of the declaration will move Asean to finally sign a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that imposes sanctions on military intrusions.
- ASEAN starting to Discuss the South China Sea Code of Conduct (Allvoices) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Regional disputes delay large-scale drilling of oil in South China Sea (Oman Time) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)
- Philippines seeks summit on sea row; China cool (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- DFA hits China over ‘cannons’ statement (ABS-CBN News) (thuytinhvo.wordpress.com)