Jul 022013


Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario: Greater engagement between Asean and US, AP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Unfazed by China’s accusation that the Philippines was “internationalizing” territorial disputes, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has called for greater engagement between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the United States in ensuring maritime security in the region.

Speaking at the Asean-US Post-Ministerial Conference in Brunei Darussalam on Monday, Del Rosario also called for compliance to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) as Asean and China were still working on a legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) to govern the disputed waters.

The DOC is an agreement between the Asean and China that seeks to deter armed confrontations in the strategic waterway, a critical international trading route where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have competing territorial claims.

“Fortunately, we have an appropriate mechanism for dialogue and interaction on these matters—the Expanded Asean Maritime Forum

—which was inaugurated in Manila in October 2012,” Del Rosario said in his speech, a copy of which was released in Manila by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

His remarks followed China’s threat of a “counterstrike” in the disputed waters and pointed criticism of the Philippines’ stance on the regional maritime dispute, particularly blasting its involvement of dialogue partners, including the United States, in discussions toward resolving the dispute.

Illegal occupation

China also accused the Philippines of the “illegal occupation” of the Spratlys, part of which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but is being wholly owned by Beijing under its nine-dash-line claim.

The Philippines has lashed out at China’s “provocative” threat and its “massive military buildup” in the disputed waters, with the undeterred presence of its naval and law enforcement ships at the Panatag (Scarborough) and Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoals, both within the country’s EEZ.

In his speech, Del Rosario said “the full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety is imperative to prevent disputes from escalating into conflict” while the COC remains to be concluded.

Asean and China have agreed to work on the code at the conclusion of the Asean foreign ministers’ meetings in Brunei on Sunday.

Also speaking before the officials of the Asean and partner nations in Bandar Seri Begawan on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hopes that the COC would finally be negotiated and implemented to “help ensure stability in this vital region.”

The United States is closely watching the situation in the West Philippine Sea amid its defense pivot to the Asia Pacific. Its top officials earlier criticized China for aggressive moves in the disputed waters while expressing support for the Philippines’ bid to peacefully resolve the territorial row.

Open and friendly

Del Rosario explained this at the Asean Regional Forum yesterday, saying the country’s decision to take China to the UN arbitral tribunal was “an open and friendly attempt to find a durable solution” to regional tensions.

He lamented China’s refusal to take part in the arbitral proceedings, now pending before a five-member ad hoc tribunal assembled by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines’ legal action invokes the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in asking a halt to Chinese incursions into the Philippines’ EEZ. It also seeks to invalidate China’s “excessive” nine-dash-line claim in the disputed waters.

“It is unfortunate that the member-state declined our invitation to join us in this arbitration,” Del Rosario said.

“From the Philippine perspective, a rules-based approach in the management and resolution of disputes in the South China Sea has two complementary elements: first, the early conclusion of a legally binding and substantive COC, envisaged in the Asean-China DOC; and second, third-party arbitration of maritime disputes under Unclos,” he said.

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