A moratorium on China’s increasingly provocative moves in the South China Sea could help weaken the Asian economic giant’s aggressively high-profile presence in disputed waters there.
It would only happen, however, if Beijing expressed willingness to hold talks especially with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian Nations with conflicting claims to resource-rich areas in the contested sea, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Monday.
Del Rosario proposed the moratorium during an interview with ANC’s “Headstart,” taking off from the original suggestion made by some US officials.
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, told reporters on Monday that the talks will still operate under the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) that contains provisions on managing disputes in the region.
Jose said del Rosario will initiate the talks with the Association of Southeast Asian nations (Asean) as a bloc or at the very least with the claimant-countries (the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam) to build a consensus among themselves.
Taiwan is also a claimant-country but is neither part of the Asean nor considered a sovereign state by the United Nations and countries that acknowledge Beijing’s One China Policy.
If China refused to join the proposed talks for the same reason it dismissed international arbitration to resolve the claims to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Jose said they will still try their “best” to find a solution to China’s reclamation of islands in the disputed waters.
China has been “accelerating” its expansion activities in the West Philippine Sea, building airstrips and, lately, a school in the disputed Paracel Islands, which is also being claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
Del Rosario believes that the talks are a “reasonable” proposal as China and the Asean look at the expeditious formulation of a Code of Conduct that could force China to negotiate with the Asean as a bloc.
Asean groups the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia.
Although China signed the DOC, which devised mechanisms for a more binding Code of Conduct with the Asean, many believed that Beijing has dragged its feet in helping realize the COC.
The DOC was aimed at reducing political tensions and preventing rash actions in the South China Sea.
Jose said the Philippines’ goal right now is to manage the tensions, not to delineate maritime boundaries.
In the past two months, the Philippine government filed at least two diplomatic protests against China’s reclamation on five reefs–Mabini (Johnson South), Malvar (Eldad), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven) and Hughes (Kennan).
China, Jose noted, thumbed down these diplomatic protests as it kept on pushing its “indisputable” sovereignty over the islands and waters in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines has submitted its case to the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea but China also rejected to participate in arbitration proceedings there.
Instead, it wrote to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, saying it is unwilling to submit itself to a procedure that would put into trial its contested nine-dash line claim.
The claim is based on ancient Chinese maps that showed nine dashes covering China’s “territory,” which extends to the continental shelves, exclusive economic zones and territorial waters of their neighbors in the region, including the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan province in western Philippines.