Editorial

Asean a paper tiger when it comes to China

A snappy comment made by Manila Times reader Dominador D. Canastra about our August 15 news “PH action plan gets cold shoulder in Asean talks” will most likely come true. Mr. Canastra wrote: “If things go on like this for 30 more years, in 2044, the Asean countries in Indochina—except Vietnam—will all become provinces or at least protectorates or colonies of China.”

Our story, by Reporter Bernice Camille V. Bauzon, began with the sentences: “The saying ‘might makes right’ once again prevailed in the territorial row between China and the Philippines over the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

“This after the Philippines’ proposed Triple Action Plan (TAP), was snubbed and totally disregarded in the joint communiqué of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and Regional Forum (ARF) as talks held in Myanmar wrapped up last week.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario had presented the Philippine proposal of a Triple Action Plan to the Foreign Ministers of Asean member-states during the 47th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) held on August 8 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

The Triple Action Plan (TAP) aims to reduce and manage tensions in the South China Sea until a settlement of disputes may be obtained.

“Tensions in the South China Sea have worsened in the past few months and continue to deteriorate. All of us are seeing an increased pattern of aggressive behavior and provocative actions in the South China Sea, seriously threatening the peace, security, prosperity and stability in the region,” Secretary Del Rosario said at the AMM meeting.

The TAP contains immediate, intermediate and final approaches to address the provocative and destabilizing activities in the region without prejudice to existing territorial claims.

Sec. Del Rosario said at the AMM plenary: “On an immediate basis, Asean, in demonstration of its leadership, must call for a cessation of activities that escalate tension, pursuant to Article 5 of the Asean-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).”

“On an intermediate basis,” Mr. Del Rosario added, “to manage further tension, ASEAN and China should continue urgently working for a full and effective implementation of the DOC and the expeditious conclusion of a Code of Conduct (COC).

“Finally, through arbitration, which is consistent with the DOC, there will be a clarification of entitlements to bring the disputes to a final and enduring resolution in accordance with international law, particularly UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” the DFA Secretary further said.

During the meeting, it appeared that the majority of the Asean foreign ministers were in agreement with the Philippines.

But the communiqué at the end of the meeting that Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wanna Maung Lwin released did not mention the Philippine-proposed Triple Action Plan, which calls for a moratorium on activities in the region that could escalate tensions.

The communiqué reaffirmed that the ministers saw the importance “of promoting peace, stability, maritime security, unimpeded trade, and freedom of navigation and over flight” in the West Philippine Sea, where China and other claimant-countries have exchanged accusations.

Although the ministers stressed the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), it also leaves unmentioned the Philippines’ arbitration case against China, which seeks to invalidate the nine-dash line covering 90 percent of the disputed region that PRC has included in its new maps.