The competing territorial and maritime disputes in Asia can lead to conflict in a region largely considered to have the fastest growing economies in the world, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.
In his speech before the 19th Nikkei Future of Asia Conference in Tokyo, the Foreign Affairs official said that China, as an emerging superpower, must have the support if its neighbors, including the Philippines.
“The competing territorial and maritime disputes are causing considerable tension that could lead to conflict,” he said.
China’s position as an emerging superpower and the second biggest economy in the world “is very important to the security and prosperity equation of Asia.”
“We must all support China’s peaceful rise and hope that China will firmly pursue the track of being a responsible power and a positive force. Being a responsible power, however, is not without its challenges,” del Rosario added.
Aside from the overlapping territorial claims of China and Japan on an uninhabited island in the East China Sea and the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), there are also burgeoning challenges such as the situation in the Korean Peninsula.
But before Asia truly reaches its economic dominance, it must address its geopolitical problems since it is also an increasingly important presence in the global politics.
“Security developments and decisions in Asia will profoundly and increasingly be felt beyond its borders,” del Rosario said.
He then cited a report by the Asian Development Bank, which said that Asia’s economic rise requires the resolution of a “broad array of politically difficult issues over a long period.”
Del Rosario also said that Asia’s economic growth continues to highlight the burgeoning security issues in the region even though American presence had once had a “stabilizing effect.”
“Increasingly relevant to this complex equation is China’s growing economic network in the region, its rapid military build-up and its development of blue ocean capabilities,” the official furthered.
“The region, it seems, is still finding the right equilibrium that would ensure long-term peace and security,” he added.
Del Rosario also maintained that bringing the Philippines’ disputes with China over the Spratly Islands before an international arbitration court is the right thing to do to end the pattern of “unlawful, increasingly aggressive assertion based on the threat of use of force.”
Although he didn’t specifically mentioned China as the aggressive state, the Foreign Affairs chief said that the tensions in the Asia Pacific region “prevented us and other littoral States from the lawful exercise of our maritime rights and entitlements within our legitimate maritime zones.”
He said that the arbitration is a durable solution based on international law that can bring a lasting resolution to the decades-old dispute in the region, which further worsened because of numerous Chinese intrusions in Philippine territories beginning in April last year.
“With arbitration, we turn to an internationally accepted form of peacefully settling disputes, to bring the dispute to a durable and just solution, with the parties meeting on equal terms and in a level playing field,” del Rosario added.
Through the arbitration, the Philippines seek to declare as invalid Beijing’s nine-dash line that covers the whole resource-rich region.
The West Philippine Sea is also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei Darussalam.