Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China on Monday started holding a two-day “emergency meeting” in China’s Kunming province to intensify high-level dialogues on the tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a press briefing, DFA Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said Aseanmembers initiated the assembly to address pressing challenges related to the situation on the ground.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene Almendras flew to Kunming early Monday for the meeting.
“Asean members are really concerned with the developments [in the West Philippine Sea],” Jose said. “There is an erosion in the trust and confidence so we need to work to address this issue.”
Youth members of Kalayaan Atin Ito movement who went to Panatag or Scarborough Shoal to plant a Philippine flag during Independence Day on Sunday were allegedly harassed by Chinese navy men.
Jose said he has yet to receive details about the incident, but admitted that he did not object to the group’s trip to the disputed shoal.
“We have the sovereign rights and jurisdictions over those features. But our concern is their safety. They don’t have to necessary risk their lives,” he said.
In a separate statement, the DFA reiterated the government’s commitment to work within the Asean-China process to pursue the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct.
“Within this framework, the Philippines continues to advocate for the exercise of self-restraint necessary to reduce the level of tensions and calls on parties to take actions which enhance peace and stability,” the department said.
It stressed that the Philippines “upholds Asean centrality on regional issues” but its track of filing an arbitration case is consistent with the Declaration of Code (DOC) signed by Asean and China.
“[The] Philippine foreign policy on the South China Sea is guided by its commitment to a principled foreign policy and on its firm belief in the rule of law,” it said.
The DFA said arbitration is among the legal and diplomatic processes promoting the rule of law in the region, and is fully consistent with the DOC and the region’s efforts to peacefully manage and resolve the disputes.