KIBITZERS have been criticizing Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. about the absence of our country’s triumph in the UN court in the closing communiqué of the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Laos last week.
A senior public official of the Aquino regime told reporters that Mr. Yasay “should have stood strongly for promoting the arbitration ruling as being part of the final Asean statement.”
Another report said the Philippine ambassador to a most important aid-giver and ally of the Philippines commented that, “Secretary Yasay should have encouraged Asean countries to come up with a statement.” But, in fact, Mr. Yasay did.
This Filipino ambassador added, “China has been bullying us for so many years, harassing our fishermen, intimidating our patrol aircraft and Navy. They have illegally built islands on three of the reefs, which are part of our exclusive economic zone. Why are we so afraid to upset China? They have been the ones who have acted in a provocative manner. They have bullied nations like the Philippines and Vietnam.”
Addressing himself especially to former Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and former Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr., Mr. Yasay has defended himself, saying, “My predecessors failed to get this vital united statement from Asean because of their hard-line approach and their not realizing that there are many ways to skin the cat.”
Messrs. Del Rosario and Cuisia had both said they felt Mr. Yasay should have exerted more efforts in convincing the Asean to take note, in its traditional closing statement and communiqué after the Asean 49th Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in Vientiane, of the decision for the Philippines of the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in the case against China’s virtual invasion of Philippine reefs and islets, which the Chinese have reclaimed and turned into artificial islands with permanent structures, including aircraft runways, which can be or have been turned into military installations.
The usual end-of-meeting joint communiqué issued by the 10 Asean foreign ministers on July 25 after their meeting in Vientiane, Laos, does not explicitly mention the July 12 ruling of the international arbitration tribunal on the maritime case filed by the Philippines against China in 2013. The Philippines and other Asean countries, as well as scores of countries worldwide consider this court victory a landmark that will help in justly adjudicating other property disputes between states.
Mr. Yasay explains that Asean’s “united statement and joint communiqué conveys the same core message” the members “wanted to obtain which is to urge China to respect the 1982 UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the processes prescribed therein including compulsory arbitration toward settlement of disputes in the world seas and oceans.”
True, the statement fails to speak of the happy reception that the Asean countries and other states gave the news of the Philippine victory against China. But the UN tribunal does chide China for its bullying of the Philippines and illegal activities in the South China Sea.
China, like the Philippines, is a signatory to the UNCLOS, which sets legal guidelines on the use of the territorial sea and even the air space over that sea.
The July 12 decision of the UN tribunal affirmed the Philippines’ legal rights under UNCLOS and ruled that was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called Nine-dash Lines Map that covers nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea.
Mr. Yasay said the Asean joint communiqué “was a resounding diplomatic triumph that enabled Asean to join our traditional partners, ally and the international community in urging China to uphold international law and respect the processes and mechanisms under UNCLOS in resolving the dispute in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea which implicitly called for respect of the Ruling of the Arbitral Tribunal.”
It was a triumph of our delegation to the Laos meeting, considering that China’s agents in Asean—Laos, the host country, and Cambodia—were in the meeting to block mention, as China desired, of the Philippine victory at the UN tribunal.