Japanese and Philippine lawmakers on Wednesday signed an agreement that they hope will jumpstart a global campaign for peaceful resolution of disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and East China Sea.
The Joint Document for Cooperation on Promotion of the Rule of Law at Sea states that both sides recognize that in settling maritime disputes, states should make and clarify their claims based on international law and they should not use force or coercion in pursuing their claims.
The agreement seeks to settle disputes by peaceful means and avoid any unilateral attempts to change the status quo through force or coercion.
Both sides further agreed to address maritime issues and encourage members of Congress to join efforts in establishing a “Parliamentarians’ League for Maritime Security in Asia” aimed at protecting and promoting maritime order based on international law.
Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, chairman of the House Committee on National Defense and vice chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, said in a news conference that he will work for the adoption of the agreement in Congress as a resolution similar to what was signed in the US Congress.
Biazon and Hiroshi Nakada, a member of Japan’s House of Representatives and the head of the Japanese delegation, presided over the news conference.
In his discussions with the Japanese officials, as well as with other countries’ officials, Biazon cited the need to do a campaign “to raise awareness of other nations that there must be a resolution of disputes and this resolution must be in accordance [with]international law, specifically the Unclos.”
Unclos stands for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 accord recognized by 166 countries, including China and the Philippines.
“I agree with the mounting of a campaign by nations interested, nations that are directly affected and that are indirectly affected,” Biazon said, noting that 40 percent of world trade and commerce passes through the West Philippine Sea.
“This is a beginning of a campaign that has been going on, but not in a more formal manner as it is being done now. We have to conduct a campaign to elevate this concern to official level,” he added.
Nakada said they will work with respective legislative bodies of other countries and “we will promote this understanding with international societies.”
Biazon described the agreement as a “jelling of common thoughts addressing common concerns.”
The Philippines is the first country with which Japan entered into such agreement but Nakada said they are aware that other countries also share the same problems.
He added that they are looking at promoting the same agreement in Vietnam and other affected countries.
Biazon said there are two steps that must be discussed in the context of the agreement: a peaceful resolution in accordance with international law and how to address encroachments into the defined exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of each country.
Although the agreement is not yet considered a national policy, he noted that both parties “recognize a common concern [and]a need for cooperative, concerted effort to address the problem.”
“We cannot escape having to also address the security matter to prevent [raising of tensions]and to protect national interest in disputed areas,” Biazon said.
Make China aware
Nakada said the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) signed by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) did not stop China from raising tensions in the region through its “activities and actions.”
“What we are trying to do here is essentially to make China aware that the global community wants China to act within established principles that have been agreed upon,” the lawmaker added.
The international community, particularly the United States, voiced out its concerns on China’s aggressive actions in the region.
The Philippines has filed a memorial against China before the United Nations-backed International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) questioning Beijing’s claims in the disputed sea.
Based on its nine-dash line, Beijing lays claims to territories extending to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
Taiwan also has claims in the contested waters.
Japan also has its own territorial issues with China over small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea called the Diayou in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.
Tokyo has warned Beijing over its expansive claims in that region, with Japan’s new government removing the shackles of its pacifist Constitution to allow it to militarily engage long-time allies and even foes in the Asia-Pacific region.
Nakada’s delegation includes Hiroshi Miyake (Osaka), Takahito Miyazawa (Nagano), Manabu Matsuda (Yokohama), Hiromu Nakamaru (Hiroshima) and Takashi Tanuma.
They are members of Japan’s minority group in the House of Representatives, the Party for Future Generations.
On the side of the Philippines, the agreement was signed, aside from Biazon, by Representatives Al Bichara, Raul del Mar, Maria Zenaida Angping, Josephine Sato, Rufus Rodriguez, Victor Ortega, Gabriel Luis Quisumbing, Jose Ma. Zubiri 3rd, Gary Alejano, Francisco Ashley Acedillo, Mel Senen Sarmiento and Pablo Nava.
The Japanese lawmakers also met with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and other members of Congress.