LEGAZPI CITY: President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday accused China of violating an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea by planning new structures on a disputed reef in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Aquino said any activity in the disputed territory will be seen as a violation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC), a non-binding confidence-building agreement on maritime conduct signed by China and member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Cambodia in November 2002.
According to the DOC, “[t]he Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner,” the President said.
“So there is a provision banning the introduction of new facilities, making no changes until territorial disputes are resolved. What has been done on Mischief Reef in the past and at present are seemingly in violation of the agreed DOC,” he pointed out.
The President, however, admitted that the DOC was just a statement of motherhood principles, which had no operational components and was not, in a sense, legally binding.
The Philippines has been pushing for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC) which, according to him, will undoubtedly ease the tensions in the sea by many names.
“ In order for [the DOC]to be operational and enforceable we need a COC. That’s why in Cambodia in 2012 we urged the speedy completion of the COC to end disputes and potential agression,” he added.
The Philippines has claims in the West Philippine Sea including many of the Spratly islands. China says it has indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire sea. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, which is believed to have major oil and gas reserves, is rich with marine life and has heavily travelled shipping lanes.
The Department of Foreign Affairs had lodged a formal protest with China regarding ongoing construction work at Johnson South Reef in the Spratlys, but the Chinese government chose to reject the protest.
Meanwhile, Aquino said he will likely discuss rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung when they meet on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia in Manila on Wednesday.
“The details are being finalized. We also discussed it informally during the Asean in Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar. We are all pushing Asean centrality,” he said
Other top government leaders from the region attending the WEF are Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Myanmar Vice President U Nyan Tun.