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US backs PH sea tact

China, Asean agree on code of conduct The United States government on Wednesday said it was supporting Manila’s move to seek arbitration to resolve conflicting claims with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). US State Secretary John Kerry said the case lodged by the Philippines was a “step in the right direction. Kerry made the statement even as China said it would work with other senior officials of the Association of South East Asian Nations in coming up with a binding code of conduct in the disputed seas. China made the statement at the close of the 19th China-ASEAN Senior Officials Consultation on Wednesday (April3) in Beijing. “The Philippines is one of our five Asia-Pacific allies and a very, very important relationship at this point in time when there are tensions over the South China Sea, where we support a code of conduct,” Kerry said after meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in Washington. “We are deeply concerned about some of these tensions and would like to see it worked out through a process of arbitration,” he added. It was the first meeting by Kerry as the US’ top envoy with Del Rosario since the former United States senator assumed his new post early this year. Del Rosario said he and Kerry “spoke at length about the situation in the West Philippine Sea.” “Secretary Kerry emphasized the importance the United States gives to maintaining peace and stability in the area. More importantly, Secretary Kerry assured me that the US is committed to supporting the efforts of the Philippines to settle the disputes peacefully and in accordance with the rule of law,” del Rosario said. “I also updated Secretary Kerry on our arbitration initiative. I emphasized its importance to the future stability of our region in particular and to the future efficacy of international law in general,” the Foreign Affairs chief added. Del Rosario was accompanied by Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr., Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta, Deputy Chief of Mission Maria Austria, and Executive Director Rosalita Prospero of the Office of American Affairs. “I stressed that we are committed to seeing this arbitration through.  There should be no confusion or any doubts about our resolve,” del Rosario added. He said Kerry also committed to work with Brunei, the current chairman of Asean, on the West Philippine Sea issue. Kerry had met with His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei when the Brunei leader visited the US State Department on March 11, 2013. “We agreed to work closely together, particularly in the coming Asean ministerial and summit meetings to maintain peace in the area and to resolve the disputes through peaceful means and in accordance with the rule of law,” del Rosario said. “Both the United States and Brunei know that the Philippines is committed to the arbitration case it has filed,” he added. Del Rosario later thanked the US envoy for focusing on the issue of peaceful settlement on the West Philippine Sea even he was still a US senator. “Secretary Kerry was a moving force behind a Senate resolution on the peaceful settlement of disputes in the West Philippine Sea,” Del Rosario added. Senior officials of Asean-China have committed to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and work toward a binding code of conduct. During the last Asean Summit in Phnom Penh in November, Asean leaders and China have agreed to start formal dialog to craft the CoC. “For 10 years, the Declaration on the CoC (DoC) has not progressed. Now, it is moving forward...Now, we have publicly declared that let us now proceed to formal dialogs on the formulation of the CoC. So I am happy with that,” President Benigno Aquino III said in an interview in Cambodia last year. Of the 10-member states of Asean, four are claimants to disputed territories in the region, namely the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. In his intervention during the Asean-China Summit last year, Mr. Aquino said the Philippines looks to Beijing to set the example of “wise and peace-seeking leadership.” “A China that is benevolent and generous towards smaller neighbors can enhance stability in the region and allow each of our nations to sustain the growth we have so have experienced despite global uncertainties,” the President said. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also made a call to hasten formal talks leading up to the CoC. Lee said prolonged tensions over territorial disputes will affect investor confidence in the region. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, for his part, said conflicting maritime claims should be settled through “friendly consultations and negotiations by the parties directly concerned in the spirit of mutual respect.” With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Vito Barcelo
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