RP, China clashes on Asean sea stand – Friday, 17 June 2016
The Philippines and China again locked horns over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) statement on the South China Sea conflict as the government insisted that a strongly-worded stand against China was an Asean position while China said the statement was withdrawn as a result of a “confusion between Asean and the media.”
Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene Almendras claimed Asean Foreign Ministers had agreed to issue a joint statement expressing deep concern over recent developments in the disputed South China Sea hours before it was withdrawn.
Almendras, through Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose, said Asean ministers who participated in the Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kunming, China on June 14 expressed their “serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”
They also stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) , a position long-held by Manila.
Confusion marred the end of the meeting when Malaysia released the approved joint statement. Later, it was retracted by Kuala Lumpur, saying the statement was not an official Asean communique.
Asean members Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia instead issued their respective national statements in lieu of the joint statement. The Philippines’ statement was released yesterday which was in line with the original Asean position that raised concerns over the territorial conflict, according to Jose.
Thus far, there has been no reported individual messages issued from the other Asean members published by wau of wire reports.
“By the time the meeting ended, there was an agreement among Asean Foreign Ministers and there was a text of the Asean statement and they agreed it will be released. We don’t exactly know what happened,” Jose said.
“All agreed to the content of the statement,” he added.
China Foreign Ministry (FM) spokesman Lu Kang has said the withdrawal of the Asean statement was the result of a confusion.
Lu said confusion between Asean and the media last June 15 resulted in the Asean releasing a statement and the need to retract it three hours afterwards, stating the need for “amendments.”
Jose said there was an agreement to release the Asean statement, the second one (that came after) was only an individual national position of Malaysia.
Jose said refused to speculate on what prompted the retaction saying “as of now, we don’t know what happened.”
Asean divided over sea conflict
Asean members have been at odds over the issue of the South China Sea. While some members led by the Philippines and Vietnam back the rule of law and multilateral talks with Beijing in resolving the disputes, other countries aligned with China, such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, support bilateral negotiations or have blocked statements critical of Beijing’s aggressive actions in the waters.
Almendras said the ministers “emphasized the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would further complicate the situation or escalate tensions, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.”
They also articulated their commitment “to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the Unclos and the UN Charter.”
Amid China’s massive island-building in disputed rocks equipped with radars and surface-to-air missiles and military bases, the ministers “emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions” in the waters.
China insists on its historical and indisputable claim over 90 percent of the strategic waters where a bulk of the world’s trade pass and which is home to huge mineral deposits and natural oil and gas.
Asean, Almendras said, reiterated its firm commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety, and while noting the momentum and new phase of consultations, urged the early adoption of an effective Code of Conduct.
The Code is a non-binding non-aggression pact that prevents new occupation and activities that will stir up tensions in the waters.
“Pursuant to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety, and pending the early adoption of an effective Code of Conduct, stressed the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures that would enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties,” Almendras said of the Asean ministers’ agreed text.
When Manila’s arbitration case was raised, he said the Philippines’ reply underscored that arbitration is among the legal and diplomatic processes promoting the rule of law in the region.
He also said the case, filed in January 2013 in a bid to denigrate China’s massive sea claim, is fully consistent with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the region’s efforts to peacefully resolve the disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Charter.
A final decision is expected to be handed down by the The Hague court in the coming weeks.
Jose said any Asean position is expected, however, to be overtaken by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision on the Philippines case against China in the coming weeks.
“It can be foreshadowed once the tribunal issues a decision,” he said.
Asked what the country’s stance on the meeting’s discussion of Philippine’s case before the tribunal, Jose said “the Philippines’ position is that arbitration is among the legal and diplomatic processes among the rule of law in the region and making a firm stand on the country’s claim over the disputed area be put on the necessary due process.”
He said the arbitration case is “fully consistent with the DOC and the region’s effort to peacefully resolve the disputes in accordance with the international law including the 1982 United Nation (UN) Convention of the Laws of the Sea and the UN charter.”
By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora