UNITED NATIONS – President Duterte may have repeatedly warned that raising the arbitral ruling favoring the Philippine claim in the South China Sea may lead to a war with China.
But for Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., the possibility of an armed confrontation between countries in the region, as well as those involving outsiders, is “totally remote.”
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly here in New York on Saturday (early Sunday in Manila), Locsin said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continues to negotiate a Code of Conduct (COC) with China in the South China Sea.
“The COC is a code of reality: the reality of the proximity of the soon-to-be biggest economy in the world in one place; with a commensurate industrial war-making capacity,” he said.
“But war is a totally remote possibility. All parties have built so much and achieved such material progress that none of us, nor any outside power, will risk losing the richest market in the world,” he added.
While there have been incidents of swarming Chinese ships and the lost of a reef within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the foreign affairs chief said there have been so far no interference in the joint exploration and development of oil and gas in areas within the country’s EEZ that China also claims.
“I crafted and China accepted a Memorandum of Understanding on Oil and Gas that allows us to move forward without the slightest compromise or diminution of our respective sovereign and international rights. But who can tell?” he said.
“We’ve all asked of each other — ASEAN members and China — for mutual restraint and complete respect for UNCLOS, to which we are signatories binding ourselves unqualifiedly thereto. Including China,” he added, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The secretary earlier said China has softened its stance on the controversial provisions of the COC, such as the exclusion of the Western military presence in the South China Sea.
He added that the COC would recognize the dominance of China in the region, describing it as a manual for living with a hegemon or the care and feeding of a dragon in your living room.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General António Guterres called on ASEAN member-states and China to ensure peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.
In a statement during the ASEAN-UN Ministerial Meeting on Saturday, Guterres welcomed efforts of the ASEAN to advance discussions with China on the COC.
“I repeat my call for the peaceful resolution of all disputes, in conformity with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to refrain from unnecessary escalation,” he said.
Guterres, however, noted that the principles of fundamental human rights are being tested in Southeast Asia.
“The United Nations continues to closely follow the work of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights as well as ASEAN’s Commission on the Rights of Women and Children, that we fully support,” he said.
“I welcome recent joint human rights initiatives on business, environment and media freedom, and encourage you to make every effort towards transparent and fair elections to consolidate peace and security in the region,” he added.
Guterres said the UN continues to provide technical assistance and support to further develop and strengthen the capacity of ASEAN members to adequately address human rights challenges in the region.
“On Myanmar, I count on ASEAN to play an active and productive role in order to address the roots of the crisis and the massive forced displacements of people,” he added.
“Refugees and internally displaced persons need to be able to return safely and voluntarily, into an environment of freedom, justice and peace, with full respect for their human rights. More work is needed to build confidence among the refugees in Bangladesh,” added the UN chief.