REGIONAL maritime disputes will again be on the agenda when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) holds summits in Manila, the Department of Foreign (DFA) said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters in Malacañang, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo said the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) will be discussed during the Asean summit, but the main focus would be the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea “by the end of the year.”
“The issue of the South China Sea, of course, is in the agenda of the Asean. In fact, we will be undertaking ongoing work throughout the year focusing on the unfinished Code of Conduct of the South China Sea and the Declaration of the Code of Conduct and the principles of the Code of Conduct,” Manalo said.
Manalo, however, said the July 12 international arbitration ruling on the disputed waters would not be discussed.
“Well, actually, there’s no need to really discuss The Hague ruling because it already exists. It’s already a part of the law, of the international law, so it’s there and the focus will be of course on, I think the priority now is to try and get a code of conduct,” he said.
The Philippines and China are embroiled in a maritime dispute over parts of South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion in trade passes through every year.
China claims historic rights over about 90 percent of the area while Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
In 2013, the Philippines, under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, questioned the legality of China’s sweeping territorial claims, calling it “exaggerated” and “excessive.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines last July and declared that China’s “nine-dash line” claim in the South China Sea had no legal basis. China has refused to honor the decision, calling it “illegal since Day One.”