Manila invokes ‘rules’ in resolving sea dispute

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FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. rallied foreign ministers participating in the 49th Asean Ministerial Meeting in Laos to support a rules-based international order in resolving the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) row.

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“The decision has provided a solid legal foundation on which a rules-based approach for resolving disputes in the South China Sea can be built,” he told his peers in the region.

Yasay was referring to the July 12 international arbitral tribunal ruling that nullified China’s excessive claims to disputed waters.

The UN tribunal also upheld the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) that gives the Philippines the right to areas within 200 nautical miles of the country’s coastline.

Yasay pointed out that the decision has established jurisprudence on maritime disputes.

“The ruling can move the dispute-settlement process forward” he said.

“The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea,” Yasay added.

He said an Asean statement supporting legal and diplomatic processes being pursued by the Philippines would not only reflect Asean acknowledgment and respect for a rules-based order but also will reaffirm Asean’s “centrality and solidarity in the regional security architecture that would enhance Asean’s voice and growing influence in the international community.”

Yasay cited that the ruling is “final and binding to all parties concerned, is a clearly established fact” and that it has “significant implications for the entire region, not just the coastal states bordering the South China Sea.”

The ministerial meeting, which started on Saturday, will conclude on July 26.

Political analysts called on the government to continue influencing Asean members to take a more decisive step in the aftermath of the decision on the sea dispute.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are all taking steps to protect their sovereignty in the hotly-contested waters, but it is the Philippines, which sweepingly won the arbitration case, that should take the lead, said Professor Richard Heydarian of the De La Salle University’s political science department.

He added that a coalition led by the Philippines should prevent China from trying to occupy other lands, and it should do so without escalating tensions in the already restive region.

Menardo Abad Jr., chairman of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies, explained that although Asean countries are not “like-minded states,” the favorable ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration should serve as a springboard for more international coalitions.

“The Philippines should spearhead the negotiations of a legally binding Code of Conduct in the hotly-disputed waters,” he said in a recent forum. “We could only be a valuable member if we are not a burden.”

Dindo Manhit, president of Philippine-based think tank Stratbase ADRi, said Manila must build on its political capital by sending a stern message at the meeting in Laos that China, as a rising power, must play a constructive, rather than destabilizing, role in the region.

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said by speaking with one voice, Asean will not just succeed in maintaining peace among its members but will also open a path to collective prosperity by increasing trade and investment in Southeast Asia.

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