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Asean heads fret over sea conflicts

LEADERS of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed concerns over the escalation of tension in the South China Sea, but made no mention of the landmark arbitral ruling that the Philippines won against Beijing, a draft copy of the chairman’s statement showed.

The draft chairman’s statement, excerpts of which were obtained by the Manila Standard, reiterated the importance of a peaceful settlement of disputes over the contested waters in the South China Sea.

“We shared the serious concern expressed by some leaders over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region,” the draft communique, expected to be finalized over the course of meetings of the Asean Summit, read.

“We reaffirmed the importance of enhancing mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities, avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursuing peaceful resolution of disputes, including through full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS],” it added.

Asean leaders also cited the importance of “maintaining peace, stability, security, and freedom of navigation in and over-flight over the South China Sea.”

In a television interview, Asean National Organizing Committee Director-General Ambassador Marciano Paynor on Wednesday said that the Philippines, as host country, is expected to remain neutral by not mentioning the country’s victory before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2015.

“There is a possibility that it will be excluded in the chairman’s statement as the discussions are still ongoing,” Paynor told GMA News.

“It is a work in progress, the draft is being made. If you are the chair, your views must be neutral. You have to take a neutral stance. The other leaders, they look up to you, but you cannot impose your own issues and decisions,” he added.

READY SECURITY. A Marines anti-aircraft gunner and two tanks from the Philippine Army take space along Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City Wednesday as part of the 2017 Asean summit security, with regional leaders starting their meeting tomorrow, which the government has declared is a special non-working holiday. Norman Cruz
Former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, however, described the present draft of the communique as “disappointing,” which reflects a “minimum expectation of positive leadership to be attributed to the Philippine chairmanship” in dealing with the ongoing sea row with Beijing.

“The draft of the chairman’s statement is deeply disappointing and, if not revisited, would manifest an absence of the desired leadership,” Del Rosario said.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar, however, said the chairman’s statement will still need the approval of all Asean member states.

“The chairman’s statement is still being finalized and will be issued right after the summit. So at this point we cannot say with certainty how the statement will read in its final version,” he said in a text message to reporters.

“Drafts can evolve very quickly especially since we are only a few days away from the summit itself. The final version will be issued after the summit, taking into consideration the views of all Asean member states,” he added.

During the Committee of Permanent Representatives to Asean Meeting on Wednesday, first of the many meetings as part of the 30th Asean Summit, the CPR exchanged views on possible outcome documents and various initiatives for the 50th AMM and other ministerial meetings and the 31st Asean Summit in November, which will also be held in the Philippines.

Reports suggested that the draft chairman’s statement, which was already drafted ahead of April’s summit, would touch on issues of common concern among Asean members, including a “heading” expressing concern over tensions in the Korean Peninsula and the plight of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which has prompted criticism from international groups.

While leaders of the 10-nation regional bloc expressed the same serious concern over China’s “continued and escalating reclamation activities” in disputed areas of the South China Sea during the last ASEAN summit in Vientiane last year, the bloc avoided mentioning the landmark ruling favoring the Philippines in its row with Beijing.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who is now the rotating chairman of the Asean had earlier opted to sign agreements on joint coast guard patrols with Beijing instead of pursuing the line of the previous administration for China to abandon its claims over contested waters “to lower regional tensions.”

The same document echoed the possible completion of a Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea within the Philippine chairmanship.

“We underscored the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea [DOC] in its entirety. We were pleased with the progress to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct [COC], in order to facilitate the early adoption of the COC within the Asean-China process,” the communique said.

SUMMIT PROTEST. Filipino activists wearing masks  depicting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping link arms during a news conference Wednesday to protest the Philippines hosting of the Asean summit. Norman Cruz
In a press briefing, Bolivar said while the Asean recently released two statements expressing concern over the situation in the Korean Peninsula, “there are no inputs yet at this point” if the 10-nation bloc would release a third statement under the Philippine chairmanship.

He also stressed that the Asean’s principle of “non-interference” may play a vital role if domestic issues of the member-states, like the Rohingya minority of Myanmar and the allegations of extrajudicial deaths under Duterte, will be discussed during the meetings.

The President, who previously said that he would “not rather flaunt” the historic ruling to protect the Philippines’ bilateral relations with China, reminded the Asian giant that other countries are affected by the ruling.

During the Lao chairmanship, leaders of the Asean moved to just adopt agreements such as the Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of Asean Member States and China on the Full and Effective Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea by the first half of 2017; and to create the framework on the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in the South China Sea.

Travelers who have scheduled flights from April 28 to May 1 were advised to plan their travel going to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in anticipation of heavy traffic due to road closure in several areas in Pasay City because of the Asean meetings.

“In light of the 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings which will be held in Manila from April‬ 26 to 29, 2017, Cebu Pacific [CEB] and Cebgo remind all passengers flying out on these dates‬ to plan their routes to get to NAIA, as several roads will be closed in Pasay City—especially‬ those leading to NAIA Terminals 3 and 4,” the airline said.

It added that April 29 to May 1, 2017 is also the Labor Day weekend.

Malacañang has suspended classes at all levels and work in the government and‬ private sector on April 28, Friday, in line with the Philippines’ hosting of the summit. ‬

“Should guests traveling to and from Manila from April 28-30, 2017‭ ‬wish to change their flight‬ schedules, ‭they may rebook their flights for free within 30 days.‬‬ Guests flying out this weekend are advised to be at the airport early to process pre-departure‬ ‭requirements and avoid long lines at the check-in, security and immigration counters,” the airlines also said.

The 30th Asean summit will officially start on Friday in Manila, with leaders from the 10 Asean countries—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—gathering for three days, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World,” the Asean leaders will discuss progress in the implementation of the Asean Vision 2025, as well as the regional bloc’s external relations and its future directions.

President Duterte will chair the 30th Asean Summit Plenary and Retreat as well as the BIMP-EAGA Summit on April 29. He will host a gala dinner for the leaders and delegates on that day.

Topics: Association of Southeast Asian Nations , South China Sea , China , Philippines
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