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Asean urged: Stand up to China

KUALA LUMPUR – Beijing is moving toward “de facto control” of the South China Sea, the Philippines warned on Sunday as it called on fellow Southeast Asian countries to stand up to their massive neighbor.

Del Rosario
China’s unabated reclamation in Philippine-claimed territory in the South China Sea, if not stopped, will irreparably alter the status quo and render moot diplomatic initiatives in the region, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario warned his peers at a regional meeting in the Malaysian capital.

If the regional bloc, which is launching the integrated ASEAN Community this year, fails to act on the reclamation of most of the islands, reefs and atolls of the Kalayaan Island Group, that would undermine the solidarity and credibility of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Del Rosario said.

“Is it not time for ASEAN to say to our northern neighbor that what it is doing is wrong and that the massive reclamations must be immediately stopped?” Del Rosario told his counterparts at the summit.

Diplomatic sources, however, said Malaysia, this year’s ASEAN chair, rejected the Philippines’ proposal for a stronger statement against China.

Malaysia has instead come up with a draft of the statement that only says, “We share the concerns expressed by some leaders on the land reclamation being undertaken in the South China Sea, which has eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

“In this regard we instructed our foreign ministers to address this matter constructively under the framework of ASEAN-China relations,” said Malaysia’s draft document circulated to ASEAN officials, which was obtained by Kyodo News.

Malaysia, which is also one of the claimant states in the South China Sea, has close economic ties with China and has so far kept a low profile on the issue. The Malaysian government has said in recent days that it prefers a diplomatic approach in handling the issue at the ASEAN summit.

In his address, Del Rosario traced the history of Manila’s efforts to draw international attention to the impact of China’s moves in the South Cina Sea.

“First, we stressed that there was a growing gap between what we were hearing in diplomatic terms and what was really happening in the South China Sea.

“Second, we warned that massive reclamation threatened to militarize the region, infringe on the rights of other states and damage the marine environment,” he said.

Del Rosario referred to China’s Nine-Dash Line claim as “unreasonable, expansive and illegal” and said it would render several regional agreements on the code of conduct in the South China Sea irrelevant.

If the massive reclamations are allowed to be completed, he added, China “will succeed in defining and imposing its unlawful sovereignty claim over more than 85 percent of the South China Sea.”

Asean meeting. President Benigno Aquino III arrives in Kuala Lumpur
to join the 26th Asean Summit. Malacañang Photo Bureau
Manila has a pending case against China with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), where China has refused to participate. The Philippines submitted its summary of arguments in May last year, and the judges at The Hague have set hearings in June.

Del Rosario said Manila had raised the matter for discussion in several international forums and even the United Nations to “galvanize the understanding of the international community.”

Despite the alarm raised by Manila, China was “clearly and quickly advancing with its massive reclamation,” he said.

Beijing’s intentions to place defense installations on the reclaimed rea had a chilling implication for regional peace and stability, Del Rosario warned.

He also reminded the other ASEAN countries that China “will in all probability finish its reclamation activities before it agrees to conclude a COC [Code of Conduct],” which the regional bloc has been pushing.

This would render such a code irrelevant and would in effect legitimize China’s reclamation, he added.

Del Rosario said the Philippines believes that it was key to the centrality of ASEAN to foster common perspectives on regional and international issues.

While China has vowed to respect and to adhere to ASEAN centrality, the launch of “the so-called ASEAN-China Maritime Year 2015... last month disregards ASEAN centrality,” he said.

Aside from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, other claimants in the South China Sea territorial disputes are Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Among ASEAN claimants, the Philippines and Vietnam have been more vocal over the disputes, while Malaysia and Brunei have been quiet.

President Benigno Aquino III left for Malaysia Sunday to attend the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, aiming to drum up support for the Philippines’ stand on the territorial dispute.

In a speech before his departure, the President also cited the importance of seeking a peaceful solution and of ASEAN centrality.

“Instead of being on our own, unity is the key to achieving goals for the good of all. It is clear: the legitimate problem of one, is the problem of all,” said Aquino.

After the ASEAN Summit, the President will attend the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit.

“The member nations are one with us in pushing for lasting peace in Mindanao, and they are also our strong partners in the economy,” Aquino said.

In Malaysia, he added, he would also try to speak with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to appeal the death sentence against Filipino maid Mary Jane Veloso, who was convicted on drug charges.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the government will be spending about P11.8 million on the President’s trip to Malaysia.

The amount covers expenses for transportation, accommodation, food, equipment and other requirements of the President and his 64-member delegation.

President Aquino left Sunday on a chartered flight accompanied by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Mindanao Development Authority Secretary Luwalhati Antonino, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Andrea Abad and Presidential Protocol Chief Celia Anna Feria.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman and Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, who are also part of the Philippine delegation, went ahead to Malaysia the other day.

A key item on the agenda of the Malaysia conferences is ASEAN integration, which targets the creation of a single market and production base for its members: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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