JAKARTA: The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) supports the Philippines’ bid for a peaceful resolution of its own territorial dispute with China, as well as the stance of other claimant countries that reject Bejing’s “dotted line” policy in asserting its sovereignty over rocks and islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“The dotted line [policy]is not binding [on]any [claimant]. . . but Asean supports the peaceful resolution of these disputes [concerning the Philippines and three other countries with China],” Asean secretary general Le Luong Minh told The Manila Times in an interview.
In light of the Asean Economic Community integration this year, Le said the sea issue is of paramount importance because any conflict that may arise “will be very detrimental” to the envisioned common market.
“For the Asean community, peace and stability and security [are]of paramount importance to allow us to focus on economic development… Any hostility or conflict that will erupt in the region will be very detrimental to our process of community building,” the official explained.
Le also responded to questions fielded by visiting mediamen who are members of the Confederation of Asean Journalists led by its president, Benny Antiporda.
The Asean official noted that it is not only the Philippines that has rejected China’s 9-dash line policy but other Asean nations as well that are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) which, he said, is more binding.
“Since 2009 when China [asserted the]dotted line concept and claim, one of the Asean countries lodged a protest with the UN. All Asean claimants protest [against]the dotted line [concept]because it’s not [in accordance with the]commitment [to]Unclos and the dotted line covers 90 percent of the South China Sea. There is no way it can be accepted by any party to the Unclos,” Le explained.
Manila filed a memorial last year before the UN International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea contesting China’s 9-dash line policy.
But Le said China is not considered as a threat to regional peace because the sea disputes are but one of the many areas where China and Asean countries are embroiled in.
“We have been talking about sovereignty issues but we have to be reminded and aware that this is not the only issue with China. We have a very substantive engagement with China,” he pointed out.
Le said it is just a matter of time before a Code of Conduct is adopted in relation to the sea disputes since the claimant countries have agreed on three substantial areas: the commonalities, the need to pass a code the soonest time possible and the countries’ common stand on other issues and concerns such as criminality.
“What is happening over the past years is impacting on our work and effort in striving to achieve a community. That’s why we consider efforts to achieve solution conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the region. It must be a constructive way,” he added.
Le said freedom of navigation must be guaranteed in the region because it provides a crucial sealane to world trade.
“The developments seem to be dangerous for the fact that [they affect]the status quo. The expansion and illegal [occupation]of islands affect the status quo and [they are]complicating the situation,” Le added.
He said the Code of Conduct should be passed to prevent tensions from worsening.
“But there are many concerns that should be taken into account in crafting the code, including the Unclos,” Le added.