THE leaders of 10 Southeast Asian nations held their semi-annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to chart the next phase of their plan and forge a single community while contending with the thorny issue of the South China Sea territorial disputes.
Throughout the first day of the summit, President Benigno Aquino III pushed for the approval of a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea while Indonesia announced on Saturday it will openly oppose China’s vast claims in the South China Sea.
Indonesia President Joko Widodo is expected to challenge China’s so-called “nine-dash line” map as having no legal basis, an Indonesian government source said Friday. Indonesia officially protested China’s map when it was submitted to the United Nations in May 2009.
The area in the so-called nine-dash line, which covers most of the South China Sea, overlaps with the exclusive economic zone generated from Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.
Although Indonesia is not a claimant state in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, it has been monitoring China’s development of infrastructure there, including rig and lighthouse construction, as well as its seismic surveys and fishing activities, according to an Indonesian government position paper.
In his speech during the ASEAN summit plenary session, Aquino told his counterparts that China’s reclamation in the South China Sea threatens stability in the region and urged other Asean members not allow instability.
“As I have stated many times in the past, our collective prosperity requires stability in the region. This has come under threat by unilateral actions such as the massive reclamation and building of structures on features in the Spratly islands, which have urgent and far-reaching implications to the region and the international community,” Aquino noted.
He added, as a rules-based community, Asean should not allow any country, “no matter how powerful, to claim an entire sea as its own and to use force or the threat thereof in asserting such a claim.”
Aquino then urged his fellow leaders to develop a post-2015 ASEAN Connectivity Agenda.
“We have not resolved, even amongst Asean members, the competing claims especially among the Spratlys. These improvements further complicate and increase the difficulty of coming to compromises that will be necessary to prevent further tension from rising,” he added.
The ASEAN is composed of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam while Papua New Guinea will stand as an observer.
The Philippines and other Asean countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, has a continuous territorial dispute over China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea citing its nine-dash line in its historical Chinese map.
Last year, the Philippines has proposed the Triple Action Plan, which aims to reduce and manage tensions in the South China Sea until a settlement of disputes may be obtained.
TAP will also address reports that China is planning on constructing infrastructure on the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam and the Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines.
The freeze on activities in the region is the first part of the three-part action plan of the Philippines.
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.
The DOC was signed in 2002 between China and Asean , a non-binding edict aimed to reduce tensions in the region and prevents claimant-countries—China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan--from aggressively pursuing their claims.
The Code of Conduct, on the other hand, is a more binding edict that was enshrined in the DOC. It hopes to further promote peace and stability in the economically vital sea lane.
Aquino said Manila has always adhered to the rule of law in solving the Philippine maritime dispute with China.
“Our decision to resort to arbitration reflects our belief that it is a transparent, friendly, durable, and peaceful dispute settlement mechanism that can bring stability to the region,” Aquino said.
He also thanked the international arbitral tribunal for taking jurisdiction over some of the complaints the Philippines has filed against China.
“We welcome the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision on jurisdiction, and look forward to the next round of hearings, scheduled for next week at The Hague,” he added.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak for his part also echoed Aquino’s call for a peaceful rules-based approached in resolving the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
In his speech, Najib mentioned the importance of resolving disputes through peaceful means, in accordance with international law including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“We call on all parties to excise self-restraint, and avoid actions that would complicate or escalate tension. That is the ASEAN way,” Najib said.
Aquino arrived in Kuala Lumpur Friday evening, a day after he hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila.
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