Restraint in South China Sea Asean’s mantra once again


SOUTHEAST Asian leaders, including President Duterte, have vowed to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China Sea as they agreed to “avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.”

All the 10 leaders attended the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit (Asean) in Thailand.

In the Asean Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership for Sustainability, all the 10 leaders also agreed to “work actively toward the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety,” as well as the “early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct.”

They also affirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in, and overflights above the South China Sea, and vowed to pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

The Philippines is the chair of the Asean-China Dialogue for Partnership from 2018-2021.

Asean has failed to come up with a Code to Conduct for more than a decade, even under the Philippines’s chairmanship of the annual summit in 2017.

Last year the President said he will push for the Code of Conduct “at all costs” but noted that the country is tied to a Mutual Defense Treaty with US, which keeps it from telling the Western superpower to stay away.

The President’s attendance at the Summit in Bangkok comes on the heels of controversy surrounding the sinking of a Filipino fishing vessel that was hit by a Chinese fishing vessel. A huge uproar has greeted not just news of the “allusion,”—with some critics insisting it was a ramming—but also the Chinese side’s abandonment of 22 Filipino fishermen as their boat sank. They were rescued hours later by Vietnamese fishermen.

The Philippine government has since condemned the abandonment of the Filipino fishermen in distress although President Duterte has yet to publicly express his outrage against China over the incident.

Duterte has also accepted China’s offer to conduct a joint probe on what really transpired on June 9 in Recto Bank.

Before he departed for the Asean Summit last Friday, the President said he will be posing a question on whether it is right for China to claim all of the ocean. The President also said he is not afraid of China, but that Filipinos may die helplessly if both nations will go to war over the territorial dispute. A diplomatic protest has been filed by the Philippines against China over the June 9 Recto Bank incident.

Although the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark decision in 2016 invalidating China’s “excessive” claims to the West Philippine Sea, China has opted not to recognize the arbitral ruling.