Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario called for an expanded maritime security cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the United States amid the intensifying political tensions between the Philippines and China.
He emphasized during the Asean-US Post Ministerial Conference in Brunei that “maritime security is gaining greater importance in the dialogue partnership.”
An expanded maritime cooperation with the US, a global naval superpower, will help maintain the peace and stability in the region since a Code of Conduct (COC) has yet to be drafted between the 10-member bloc and China.
Del Rosario also highlighted the importance of following the provisions of the Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC), which was signed by Beijing and Asean in 2002 to reduce tensions in the resource-rich region.
Since a COC has yet to be negotiated and concluded, the Foreign Affairs chief said “the full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety is imperative to prevent disputes from escalating into conflict.”
On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry pushed Asean and China to act on a proposed COC to help establish peace and stability in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
A COC, Kerry said during the expanded session of the 46th Asean Ministerial Meeting, would help ease tensions caused by the territorial disputes in the region. He reminded Asean and China of its “strategic interests” in seeing stability in the West Philippine Sea.
The South China Sea issue continued to simmer after the Philippines accused Beijing of a military buildup to enforce its claims to nearly all of the disputed waterway.
Del Rosario told reporters that on Tuesday, one foreign minister after another stressed the need for negotiations on avoiding conflict at sea.
The 10-member Asean has been pushing a reluctant China for talks on a set of rules governing conduct at sea meant to prevent actions that could lead to conflict.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea and has long resisted moves to talk with ASEAN as bloc, reluctant to cede any ground on its claims.
On Sunday, China agreed to talk with Asean regarding negotiations on a COC for the region. Negotiations will apparently start in China in September.
Del Rosario said he hopes China “is earnest in terms of moving forward in this process.”
Concerns have been rising that actions by China to increase its grip on disputed islets in the sea, a key corridor for regional and world trade, could lead to conflict with rival claimants.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Tuesday maintained that the Philippine government will stick to diplomacy in dealing with its territorial dispute with China.
“It’s in the Constitution, we renounce war as policy,” Aquino stressed.
“Ngayon parati nating sinasabi kailangan ng hinahon, kailangan ng matinong pag-uusap, para dumating tayo sa isang solusyon na katanggap-tanggap sa lahat ng panig [We have always appealed for calm and sensible dialogue to attain a solution that will be acceptable to all parties],” he added
He said the government had filed a case for binding arbitration before a United Nations tribunal.
“This is one of the rights of any country to protect its sovereignty],” the President pointed out.
“So pipilitin natin na hindi tayo hahantong sa kung ano mang kaguluhan dahil parang baligtad nga ‘yon sa pakay natin na magkaroon ng katahimikan, estabilidad, at pagkakataon na umunlad lahat ng nasasangkot dito sa pagtutunggali tungkol diyan sa mga territorial disputes [We will try to avoid violence because this is against our goal to achieve peace, stability and prosperity for the parties involved in the territorial disputes],” Aquino added
Malacanang also downplayed claims of a Chinese news analyst that the Philippines has become a ‘troublemaker’ in the region, sabotaging China’s diplomatic relations with US and Japan.
“We don’t need to dignify all statements coming from Beijing newspapers or news analysts,” Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“What is clear is that the Philippines has availed of the right approach—rules-based, the right process—arbitration and the right venue—UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] arbitral tribunal,” the Palace official added.