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.