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‘New solutions needed in SCS’

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Marcos says maritime tensions ‘most complex’ global challenge

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday stressed the need to find “new solutions” and forge strong alliances with like-minded allies as he described the situation in the South China Sea as “the most complex geopolitical challenge that the world faces.”

In an interview with the Japanese media, the President said a more assertive China posed a real challenge to its neighbors in Asia, which requires new solutions.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to be able to say that tensions have increased rather than diminished for the past months or the past years… but we continue to counsel peace and continue communication between the different countries,” said Marcos, who was in Japan for the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit marking the 50th year of friendship and cooperation between Tokyo and the regional bloc.

In an interview with Japan’s public broadcaster NHK on Saturday that “the situation in the (South) China Sea has grown more and more complicated.”

On Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke of serious challenges in the region.

“We are at a turning point in history, and the free and open international order based on the rule of law is facing serious challenges while we are facing complex and multiple challenges such as climate change and inequality,” he said.

“While the world is facing complex crises as division and conflict escalate in many places, Japan will tackle the challenges together with ASEAN countries, which are linchpins of the free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said, using a term for the Asia-Pacific region used by the US and its allies.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, encompassing waters and islands close to its neighbors’ shores. It has ignored an international tribunal ruling in 2016, which stated that its claims have no legal basis.

Relations between the Philippines and China have deteriorated under the incumbency of President Marcos, who has sought to strengthen ties with the United States, a traditional ally of the Philippines, and push back against China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea.

In contrast, his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte pursued a foreign policy shift toward China in exchange for investment pledges.

Southeast Asian and Japanese leaders agreed on Sunday to boost maritime security cooperation in the face of Beijing’s growing assertiveness, seen most recently in a spate of confrontations with Philippine vessels.

Without identifying China, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to “strengthen dialogue and cooperation for the maintenance of maritime security and safety (and) maritime order based on the rule of law,” a joint statement said after a summit in Tokyo.

Close US ally Japan, which also has territorial and other disputes with China, is hiking defence spending and has expanded security cooperation with countries across the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan announced on Saturday it would deepen ties with Malaysia and provide 400 million yen ($2.8 million) for “warning and surveillance” equipment.

Japan agreed last month to help the Philippines buy coastguard vessels and to supply a radar system, and the two are discussing allowing troop deployments on each other’s soil.

Japan expressed “serious concern” last week about “dangerous actions” after the latest tense confrontation between Philippine and Chinese vessels at flashpoint reefs, which included a collision and Chinese ships shooting water cannons.

Japan and ASEAN leaders also agreed to strengthen supply chain resilience and to deepen cooperation on tackling climate change, in energy, critical minerals, space and other areas like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

In a speech at a dinner he hosted Saturday, Kishida said the leaders will launch an initiative “for the next generation automotive industry,” so that ASEAN remains the world’s “leading hub for automotive production and export.”

Absent from the ASEAN summit, which marked 50 years of ties with Japan, was Myanmar which has been frozen out of high-level meetings since the military coup of 2021.

Marcos said Sunday that there was a “need to address the worsening violence and the plight of the people of Myanmar through proactive engagement of all the stakeholders involved.”

In his speech at the summit Sunday, Marcos stressed the importance of unity among member countries of the ASEAN amid continued violations of international laws.

President Marcos called for collective action amid the intercontinental ballistic missile tests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North), unilateral actions in the East and South China Seas, and the worsening violence in Myanmar.

Marcos said such actions continue to threaten peace and stability in the ASEAN region.

“We cannot overemphasize that trust is the basis of peace, a trust based on deeds and not merely words, especially in a geopolitical environment increasingly characterized by disruptions, by violation to the international rule of law, as we face common yet complex challenges together,” he said.

“We cannot also discuss peace and stability in our region without recognizing the need to address the worsening violence and the plight of the people of Myanmar through proactive engagement of all the stakeholders involved,” he added.

Marcos acknowledged that Myanmar remains a member of the ASEAN.

He said ASEAN member countries “should be ready to help in alleviating the situation through the Five Point Consensus, the United Nations Mechanism and the AHA Center, or the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management.” With AFP

Marcos acknowledged Japan’s role as a reliable partner in maritime security and cooperation as well as humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) within ASEAN mechanisms, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Plus.

He said the Philippines is looking forward to co-chairing with Japan the ADMM Plus Experts’ Working Group on Maritime Security for 2024 to 2027.

“We trust that, through our joint efforts, we can also advance partnership on climate change, marine environmental protection, HADR, maritime security, military medicine, counterterrorism, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian mine action, and more recently, cybersecurity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marcos called on the ASEAN member countries for a continued partnership for the environment while addressing common threats to peace.

The President sought Japan’s support towards achieving carbon neutrality to reduce the effects of global warming, which will benefit disaster-prone communities, as he called for climate action in promoting biodiversity management, green technologies and circular economy and the blue economy.

He said the Philippines welcomes Japan’s initiative to hold the Asia Zero Emission Community Summit on Monday.

Marcos added that the Philippine government is ready to support the concrete outcome of the recent 28th Session of the Conference Parties to the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, and said Manila is ready to support the creation of a Loss and Damage Fund and host the headquarters of the Board of the Fund.

In the final joint statement, the member states of the ASEAN and Japan on Sunday, agreed to promote a rules-based, free and open Indo-Pacific region embracing the key ASEAN principles.

“We reaffirm our commitment to uphold international law, including the United Nations Charter and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS],” the statement also said.

Under the vision statement, ASEAN members and Japan vowed to strengthen security cooperation, including maritime security tie up; disarmament and non-proliferation cooperation and working towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

They also made commitments to enhance dialogue and cooperation to promote human rights, democracy and good governance, as well as the rule of law including through legal technical assistance. — With AFP


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