China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is not an issue “exclusive” to the Philippines and the United States, but to the rest of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) who must find a rules-based peaceful resolution against threats to the stability of the region, a high-ranking US official said on Wednesday.
United States Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said that China’s behavior raises tensions and questions because it is inconsistent with the principles of international law.
However, although the US continues to call on China to act “in spirits of constructive engagement,” Russel also highlighted the need for engagement between China, the Philippines and the rest of the Asean bloc.
“This is not an issue exclusively for the Philippines and the United States, but for all 10 Asean countries,” he told reporters during the conclusion of the two-day discussion of the Fifth Philippines United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held at the Manila Diamond Hotel.
Asean, he added, is seized with the importance of freedom of navigation and commerce, as well as a “rules-based peaceful resolution both the [for the]sovereignty in question, but more important and immediately, the behavior problems that threaten the stability and congeniality of the region.”
But Asean member-states and the Southeast Asian region are not the only ones looking into the territorial and maritime disputes over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea.
“This is an ongoing concern not only by the claimants, not only by the Asean, but Southeast Asia and Pacific nations, including US and all nations, who rely on freedom of navigation and sea lanes and principle of unimpeded commerce.”
He maintained that Washington has “huge interest” in a stable and healthy relationship with China and its neighbors in the region, and that is why it continues to look forward to the conclusion of a binding Code of Conduct in the region.
In 2002, China and Asean signed the Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) that aimed to reduce tensions and prevent claimant-countries from acting aggressively in the region.
One of the provisions of the DOC is the conclusion of a more binding edict, the COC.
But China and Asean have yet to finalize a legally-binding code that would promote guidelines on the claimants’ activities in the region.
Russel denied that the US alliance, especially in terms of defense and maritime security, with the Philippines is in conflict with its relationship with China.
“China is a beneficiary of the stability and security that our [US and Philippines] alliance has generated and I would say very clearly that our alliance is not aimed against a third country,” he added.
David Shear, US assistant secretary of defense, said during the same joint press conference that Washington is “looking forward” to EDCA’s implementation because it “will help us in all of these to strengthen cooperation as equal partners.”
EDCA’s constitutionality is currently being challenged before the Supreme Court.
But even without EDCA, Defense Pio Lorenzo Batino said the US has assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization program that enhanced maritime defense and maritime domain awareness.
The Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD), which was first held in Manila in January 2011, “had continuously provided strategic guidance to regular consultations between our two militaries, including the Mutual Defense Board and the Security Exchange Board.”
“The BSD is a mechanism that provided and generated greater momentum in the implementation of cooperative activities between two militaries and defense establishments,” Batino said.
Since 2011, Shear said the US has provided $300 million in defense-related assistance to the Philippines.
For 2015, Washington will provide $40 million.