Despite Beijing’s plans to build monitoring stations in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday vowed to finish within the Philippine chairmanship the final crafting of a framework for a legally binding “code of conduct” among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China as he underscored the need to maintain peace and stability in the region.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Thai Government Building in Bangkok, Duterte insisted the need to respect the freedom of navigation and overflight within the disputed waters.
“It is imperative that both sides emphasize the need for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration of Code of Conduct of parties in the South China Sea and express determination to complete the framework of the code of conduct in 2017,” Duterte said Tuesday night.
Duterte said that countries should strive to respect freedom of navigation and overflight, which would be “in the interest of all countries within and outside the region,” he added.
Duterte, whose trip Bangkok capped his 10-nation tour of Southeast Asian nations since he took office last June, earlier raised alarm over China’s plans to construct monitoring stations in the Scarborough Shoal and other vital points in the disputed waters.
Duterte said that should Beijing continue to proceed with its plans, “it might impede ... [and] would disturb the [freedom of] navigation of the sea.”
On Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that the Foreign Affairs Department is already in the process of verifying the alleged announcements of the proposal to build structures in the disputed waters.
Abella also reiterated that the Philippines is not giving up its claims and entitlements over the area.
“[Duterte] has said time and again that he will defend and protect the interests of the Filipino people, and will take necessary action at at a time most fitting and advantageous to us,” he added.
Discussions on the code between China and Asean, four of whose members—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei—have claims in the South China Sea that overlap those of China, have taken place for over a decade already amid lingering tensions in the waters.
In July last year, foreign ministers of Asean and China “committed to the full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entry and working substantively towards the early adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea based on consensus.”
After that statement, on-and-off consultations between Asean and China for the adoption of the code of conduct resumed.
In the same statement, Duterte expressed elation on the possible start of the inaugural joint military cooperation between Filipino and Thai military starting this year.
The defense cooperation, which was finalized in the previous administration, will involve capacity-building measures to address transnational crimes and extremism, piracy at sea and trafficking of persons and illicit drugs.
At least three bilateral agreements on agriculture, tourism, and science and technology were signed between the two countries during the President’s visit.
Duterte said he is “hopeful of more investments coming from Thailand,” now estimated at more than P9 billion in 2016.
“Both sides emphasize the need to sustain the economic advances that we have so far achieved. We agreed to intensify investments and two-way trade taking full advantage of the full synergies of our interests,” Duterte said.
The Philippines will host the 30th and 31st Asean summits on April and November, while the ministers’ meetings, which will also coincide with the 50th Asean anniversary celebration, are set for August.
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