FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay on Tuesday admitted that a number of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) expressed concern over the escalation of activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and noted the need to sustain dialogues to prevent tension in the region.
In a news conference after meeting his Southeast Asian counterparts in Boracay Island, Yasay said that the ministers are concerned that the recent developments in the area may raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region.
He said the ministers pushed to sustain the momentum of dialogue in order to ease the tension.
During the meeting, ASEAN countries reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of maritime activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.
The ministers, Yasay said, sought the peaceful resolution of disputes and urged all parties to respect legal and diplomatic processes in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Yasay said the foreign ministers backed the effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) as well as efforts by the group and China to complete a framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) to facilitate the early adoption of the COC.
The DFA chief earlier said the COC framework may be completed by the middle of this year.
“We would like to come up with the framework to further promote bilateral negotiations. We would like this document to be legally binding for all concerned,” Yasay said.
However, the DFA chief admitted that there is still no telling whether China will cooperate in the completion of the COC framework.
The Pentagon claims that China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of land in the South China Sea. It has also built runways and buildings in the Spratlys, which is also being claimed by the Philippines.
The militarization in the WPS was also tackled during the Asean meeting, including the installation of a weapon system on reclaimed areas.
“The dismantling of this equipment will depend somehow on what we will encode in the COC,” Yasay explained.
Yasay chaired the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Boracay, the first gathering of Asean Foreign Ministers. The Philippines assumed the chairmanship of Asean this year.
The ministers also discussed the six priorities of Asean for 2017 — people-oriented and people-centered, peace and stability in the region, maritime security and cooperation, inclusive, innovation-led growth, resiliency, and Asean as a model of regionalism and a global player.