Despite China’s rejection of the proposal, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is preparing the groundwork for the inclusion of the moratorium on Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in the official agenda of the ministerial meeting among Southeast Asian nations this year.
The moratorium was proposed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario as suggested by some US officials.
Del Rosario said that given the latest developments in the region, including the establishment of airstrips and schools by China and its reclamation on five reefs, the proposed moratorium is “reasonable.”
Charles Jose, DFA spokesman, in a news briefing on Tuesday reiterated del Rosario’s call for the moratorium “on activities that escalate tension in the South China Sea.”
On paper, tensions in the region should be managed under the full effect of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC), signed by Asean and China to reduce tensions and prevent claimant-countries from acting aggressively in the area.
Four members of the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam—are claimants to the resource-rich waters and islands in the South China Sea.
The association also groups Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Jose said tensions in the region could also be managed by the “expeditious conclusion” of the Code of Conduct (COC), which is enshrined in the provisions of the DOC.
The COC is a more binding edict than the DOC, although it does not have a dispute settlement mechanism.
China had rejected the idea of participating in arbitration proceedings on the sea disputes, saying it preferred bilateral talks with the claimant-countries.
“We hope China will rethink its decision [not to seek arbitration]. This is good for China. This is good for everyone,” Jose said.
In a statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said China’s actions in the region “fall totally within China’s sovereignty.”
Hua Chunying, its spokesman, accused the Philippines of violating China’s sovereignty since the 1970s by illegally occupying some Chinese territories in the disputed area.
“This is totally unreasonable. We will by no means accept the so-called representations by the Philippine side and we require the Philippine side to refrain from taking any action that may complicate the situation,” Hua said.
In the past two months, the Philippine government filed at least a couple of diplomatic protests against China’s reclamation on five reefs—Mabini (Johnson South), Malvar (Eldad), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven) and Hughes (Kennan).
Beijing maintains “indisputable” sovereignty over the islands and waters in the West Philippine Sea, which they believe are theirs alone to develop and rehabilitate.