THE Philippine government on Thursday welcomed China’s decision to hold talks with Southeast Asian nations to resolve tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a Palace official said.
In a press briefing, Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda described China’s move as a ”forward step”, but he refused to speculate over China’s possible motives.
”I cannot speculate on the intent of China but, certainly, it’s a forward step,” Lacierda said, citing that the country wants to reach an agreement on a code of conduct that would set down rules to prevent conflict.
”We have already drafted the Code of Conduct and, now, we have asked them to discuss it with us. And China has already said that they are discussing with us and so this is a step in the right direction,” he added.
Two years ago, Asean and China approved guidelines to implement the 2002 agreement that called on countries to avoid occupying disputed islands, inform others of military exercises and resolve territorial disputes peacefully. Since then, China had rebuffed Asean’s efforts to start talks on a code of conduct, saying it would only do so “when conditions are ripe.”
Meanwhile, Lacierda maintained that the Philippine government will do everything to pursue peaceful means in resolving the conflict.
The Philippine government had already filed a case for binding arbitration before a United Nations tribunal, he said.
”We have already stated this quite a number of times. We have taken advan[tage]—we have used the proper approaches, the right approach: rules-based. We are using the right process: arbitration. We are using the right venue: the UNCLOS, arbitral tribunal, to settle all issues on these disputes,” he said.
”And so, we have used the approach that is acceptable to the community of nations. We have not tried to exacerbate the situation,” Lacierda added
The Philippines and China, along with other Southeast Asian countries, are involved in territorial disputes over the West Philippine Sea, which is almost entirely claimed by China as its own.