MANILA, Philippines — The South China Sea arbitration ruling should be an integral part of a binding Code of Conduct (COC), according to former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, as he enjoined Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states to exercise “utmost vigilance” to ensure that China will not undermine the ruling in crafting the code.
“Our region cannot promote the rule of law while ignoring the law as it stands,” Del Rosario told The Associated Press on Thursday, as Southeast Asian state leaders started gathering for the 35th ASEAN summit in Thailand, which ends today.
“ASEAN member states (except for Cambodia, which is a signatory) are state parties to UNCLOS. As such, they should recognize that the award rendered by an UNCLOS tribunal is a valid and binding judgment under international law,” he added.
Del Rosario was referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international pact signed on Dec. 10, 1982 and became effective on Nov. 16, 1994.
“Thus, utmost vigilance should be exercised in ensuring that the COC is not utilized by Beijing for the purpose of undermining the award in the South China Sea arbitration, which is now an integral part of international law and with which China is obligated to comply as a state party to UNCLOS,” he said.
The former Cabinet secretary urged the ASEAN to stress that the South China Sea is nobody’s backyard or exclusive preserve.
“Failure to do so would severely narrow ASEAN’s options and make it over-dependent on a single player. We need to continuously engage external powers – China, the United States, Japan, India, Australia and Europe – in the pursuit of ASEAN’s enduring peace and prosperity,” he said.
Del Rosario expressed belief that for the COC to work, “China in particular should participate in the COC in good faith.”
“This point needs to be stated because of China’s record of duplicitous behavior: that is, claiming to abide by an agreement but doing otherwise on the ground,” he said.
He cited as examples China’s “lip service” to UNCLOS while openly rejecting the UNCLOS award, and China’s promise not to complicate or escalate the dispute under the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea by “refraining from… inhabiting the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features.”
Del Rosario said the arbitration ruling is of paramount importance to the Philippines as the country that successfully initiated the case to protect its rights and entitlements in the South China Sea.
“For the Philippines, the way to honor the rule of law in the South China Sea is to consistently take the rightful position of rejecting any COC that does not serve to make the Award an integral part of it,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday urged the Chinese government to “respect international maritime laws if it wants to earn the respect of the international community.”
Lorenzana issued the statement following the reported “harassment” of Green Aura, a commercial vessel with Filipino crew aboard that was repeatedly challenged by Chinese Coast Guard vessels near Bajo de Masinloc on Sept. 30.