Apr 252013
President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday expressed confidence that the Philippines got the support of the Association on Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the way it is handling its maritime dispute with China.

In his speech upon arrival from the ASEAN summit in Brunei, Aquino said he was able to voice out the Philippines’ call for a legally binding code of conduct that will govern the South China Sea during the annual meeting of Southeast Asian leaders.

“Batid ng lahat ng pinuno ng ASEAN: ang maigting nating paninindigan ukol sa West Philippine Sea, ay nakatuon, hindi lamang sa pansariling interes ng kanya-kanyang bansa, kundi para rin sa mas aktibong kalakalan, at malawakang kaunlaran sa bahaging ito ng daigdig,” he said.

Aquino added that ASEAN leaders also agreed to fully implement the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The Philippines refers to maritime areas on the western side of the country as the “West Philippine Sea.” These include the Kalayaan Island Group, which is part of the disputed Spratly Island, and the Panatag Shoal, which was the site of standoff between Philippine and Chinese vessels last year.

The ASEAN is a regional organization composed of the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan and China, have overlapping territorial claims on parts of the South China Sea. China claims ownership of the whole South China Sea.

‘Two-step approach’

At a separate press briefing in Brunei, Brunei’s Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, who chaired this year’s ASEAN summit, said the regional organization’s member-states agreed to take a “two-step approach” in handling issues concerning the South China Sea.

“Firstly, the overlapping claims are for the claimant states to deal with. Secondly, both ASEAN and China wish to promote a calm and peaceful atmosphere and to urgently work on the code of conduct,” Bolkiah said in post-summit speech in Brunei’s capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.

The Brunei leader added that ASEAN leaders agreed “to seize the current positive momentum to reach an agreement on the code of conduct.”

“We all agree to encourage continuing discussion, dialogue and consultation in all levels especially among claimant countries and to keep the lines of communication open,” he said.

Sultan Bolkiah went on a brief state visit to the Philippines last week, where he discussed the agenda of the ASEAN summit with Aquino.

A Reuters report published earlier in the day said ASEAN member-states agreed to have “continued engagement with China” before the organization’s meeting with Chinese officials, which is expected to be held in August.

The same report quoted Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa as saying that the Philippines’ decision to bring its territorial row with China to a United Nations tribunal as “consistent with the ASEAN-China process.”

During its last summit, the ASEAN failed for the first time to issue a joint communique, supposedly due to resistance from Cambodia, which chaired the meeting. Philippine officials said Cambodia’s supposed resistance was due to its closeness with China, which has been asserting its historical claim on the West Philippine Sea.

Bilateral talks with Vietnam

During his arrival speech, Aquino also said that he had bilateral talks with Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung at the ASEAN summit.

Aquino said the Vietnamese leader expressed gratitude to the Philippines for its “meaningful relationship” with Vietnam.

“Nagpasalamat at kinilala niya ang produktibo, at higit pang bumubuting ugnayan ng ating mga bansa,” he said.

“Mula sa maritime cooperation, at sa agresibong kalakalan, hanggang sa iba’t ibang sektor at larangan, nasa interes ng Pilipinas at Vietnam na samantalahin ang mas dumadaming pagkakataon tungo sa mas matibay na relasyon at tiyak na kaunlaran,” he added. — KBK, GMA News

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