Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Sunday challenged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to speak out against China’s massive reclamation activities in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) that seek to change the status quo in one of the world’s most vital sea lanes.
“Is it not time for Asean to say to our northern neighbor that what it is doing is wrong and that the massive reclamations must be immediately stopped? On this most important issue, is it not time for Asean to finally stand up for what is right?” del Rosario said during the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
China’s activities in the region undermine Asean’s leadership, centrality and solidarity, and Asean must be able to show the world that it can act for the common interest of the region, he added.
“Even as this issue is unfolding in our region, it invariably affects the entire global community. We have already heard from many members of the global community,” del Rosario said.
He welcomed the Declaration on Maritime Security issued last week by the G7 foreign ministers, the European Union and other nations, and statements of distinguished US senators and the Asean secretary-general on Beijing’s perceived aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
“In summary, it may be said that the Philippines has borne more than its share of the heavy burden for Asean and the international community on this issue” because it has repeatedly called Asean’s attention to the reclamation projects and China’s violation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC).
Del Rosario said China “is clearly and quickly advancing with its massive reclamation[s]” and “is poised to consolidate de facto control of the South China Sea” before a binding Code of Conduct (COC) is signed.
When this happens, a COC would only legitimize and make stronger China’s control of the resource-rich region, the Foreign Affairs secretary added, especially because China has admitted to plans of defense installations on the reclaimed areas of the sea.
The DOC would then be rendered “irrelevant” as well if Beijing was allowed to continue with its reclamation projects.
“The threats posed by these massive reclamations are real and cannot be ignored or denied. Their adverse implications are urgent and far-reaching, going beyond the region to encompass the global community,” del Rosario told his Asean counterparts.
Asean has long been divided over maritime issues in the region.
Although four of its members–the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam–are claimants, majority of the member-states are major economic partners of China.
The regional bloc also groups Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
Amid a naval standoff at Scarborough Shoal in 2012, Asean even failed to issue a joint communique because of reported disagreement on the maritime disputes.
Although most of the international community expressed their support for the Philippines’ arbitration case against China before the United Nations, Manila continues to seek a stronger Asean support for its legal approach to the issues.
Success of China’s reclamation activities would lead to control of almost 85 percent of the entire South China Sea, del Rosario said, and would further validate its encompassing nine-dash line claim.
It would further block Philippine access to almost seven features in the waters, including Ayungin Shoal, where the country’s navy’s BRP Sierra Madre had run aground.