PNoy reports ‘substantial’ progress in pushing united ASEAN stand on South China Sea


MANILA, Philippines — President Benigno Aquino III said Tuesday he sees “very, very substantial progress” in discussions within ASEAN of the South China Sea issues.

Arriving in Manila from Malaysia, where he attended the 26th ASEAN Summit and pushed for asserting ASEAN centrality in facing China’s increasingly aggressive moves to control the strategic waters, Aquino said he was satisfied with the outcome of the regional meet.

And he seemed pleased that other ASEAN members besides the Philippines and Vietnam — two of the four Spratlys claimants in the regional bloc — were speaking up, although in varying degrees, to express concern over China’s reclamation spree, which affects the Kalayaan Island Group.

He noted that in his opening statement, Prime Minister Najib Razak of host Malaysia “also did talk about all of the reclamation activities. I’m sure … I didn’t hear anybody say that this isn’t a problem,” adding that in terms of degrees Manila’s was “the strongest statement” in terms of “reaffirmation of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), the DOC (Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea)” and “expeditious formulation” of the COC (Code of Conduct).

He noted that the UNCLOS came into being in 1982, “but it took up to 2002 to try and come up with a Code of Conduct to manage the tensions, as far as this issue is concerned. Failing the creation or the formulation of the COC, they came up with a DOC.” And yet, he added, even just that declaration has not been honored by China with its reclamation spree.

He reiterated Manila’s strong condemnation of China’s reclamation activities, as embodied in the Intervention statement issued by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario on Sunday at the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Del Rosario warned that unless China, unless stopped in its reclamation spree, was quickly moving towards “de facto control” of the South China Sea, which it claims in near entirety based on its “nine-dash-line” claim for which Manila sued it in a UN court.

Aquino summed up the grave implications of China’s reclamation: it was putting regional stability in peril, threatening freedom of navigation in seas where 40 percent of the world’s commerce passes through, damaging precious marine resources and Philippine biodiversity, and economically displacing Filipinos who are now being routinely harassed by Chinese vessels to prevent them from fishing.

Noting that the “DOC is an agreement between ASEAN and China, Aquino said he had emphasized “there is an ASEAN centrality, that China [should] talk to us as a group and this is how we should behave.”

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