Foreign Affairs Department Secretary Albert del Rosario on Saturday said that his fellow foreign ministers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nation had acknowledged that there is an urgent need to address the tensions in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) brought about by territorial disputes among claimant countries and China.
Del Rosario said the ASEAN envoys expressed the sentiment after he officially presented the Philippine proposal for a Triple Action Plan during the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) which kicked off on Friday, August 8, in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.
Del Rosario said that one of the proposed actions in the TAP is to freeze any activity in the disputed territories while an arbitration process is ongoing.
“The ASEAN Foreign Ministers acknowledged the urgent need to address the tensions in the South China Sea in a manner that is peaceful and constructive, consistent with the DOC, and in accordance with international law,” the DFA said in a statement released on Saturday.
The Triple Action Plan or TAP is aimed at reducing and managing tensions in the South China Sea until a settlement of the disputes is obtained.
TAP will also address reports that China plans to construct infrastructures on the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam and the Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines.
“Tensions in the South China Sea have worsened in the past few months and continue to deteriorate. All of us are seeing an increased pattern of aggressive behavior and provocative actions in the South China Sea, seriously threatening the peace, security, prosperity and stability in the region,” Del Rosario said during his presentation.
“On an immediate basis, ASEAN, in demonstration of its leadership, must call for a cessation of activities that escalate tension, pursuant to Article 5 of the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC),” the DFA chief said.
The freeze on activities in the region is the first part of the three-part action plan. The second part is the intermediate approach, which calls for the full implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) and the expeditious conclusion of a more binding Code of Conduct (COC).
“On an intermediate basis, to manage further tension, ASEAN and China should continue urgently working for a full and effective implementation of the DOC and the expeditious conclusion of a Code of Conduct (COC),” he added.
Del Rosario also underscored the importance of an arbitration where it will provide clarification of entitlements to bring the disputes to a final and enduring resolution in accordance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
In January 2014, the Philippines brought its dispute against China before the Arbitral Tribunal to seek to invalidate China’s excessive and expansive nine-dash-line claim over the West Philippine Sea.
On December 15, the judges of the Arbitral Tribunal are scheduled to hold the proceedings despite Beijing’s decision not to participate in the trial.
Of the ten members of the Asean, namely the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam, four are claimant countries—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
China and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the disputed and resource-rich territories.
China’s aggressive actions in the region have raised the concerns of the international community and the claimant-countries, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam.
Manila had also accused Beijing of “ambitious expansionism” by reclaiming Philippine-claimed territories such as the Mabini Reef, the Malvar Reef, the Calderon Reef, the Burgos Reef and the Kennan Reef.
Aside from doing reclamation activities, China also plans to build lighthouses on five islands of the Xisha Island.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose said that the TAP proposal will definitely address China’s flurry of activities in the area.
China, however, vowed “clear and firm reactions” to defend its interests in the South China Sea but rejected suggestions of aggression.
“The position of China to safeguard its own sovereignty, maritime rights and interests is firm and unshakeable,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters following a meeting with the ASEAN members in Naypyidaw.
Wang said the situation in the contested waters was currently “stable,” adding that Beijing always acted with “self restraint”.
“However, for those groundless provocative activities, the Chinese side is bound to make clear and firm reactions,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in the early hours of Saturday to attend a series of meetings with regional and international powers, is expected to underline Washington’s message for a freeze on any activities that could worsen regional maritime relations.
Kerry kicked off his Southeast Asian diplomatic charm offensive with a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh.
The top US diplomat, who fought in the Vietnam War, hailed “progress” in relations, adding that issues such as communist Vietnam’s rights record would continue to be discussed as part of efforts “to really bring this relationship to its full blossom”.
The US is looking to reinvigorate alliances in the Asia-Pacific as part of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy pivot to the region.
The forum is an annual security dialogue among foreign ministers of the 10-member ASEAN and key partners, including the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the European Union. With AFP
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