Catherine Ashton, head of foreign policy of the European Union (EU), on Tuesday highlighted the importance of the rule of law in ensuring the safe passage of goods in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“The oceans and seas are so crucial, especially for countries when it comes to trade,” Ashton said during a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Ashton, also the vice president of the European Commission, was in Manila for an official visit.
The officials discussed the position of both parties on the importance of adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in resolving territorial disputes in the region.
Ashton pointed out that the EU does not take sides in regional disputes. What the organization is focused on, she said, is addressing the issue of maritime security in the region to ensure freedom of trade and navigation.
She cited the importance of a regional Code of Conduct (COC) that will ensure peace and stability.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been urging China to expedite the conclusion of the code but to no avail.
A COC is a binding edict that would put mechanisms in place to stop claimants from aggressive positions in the sea.
The code, though, will not contain a dispute settlement mechanism, much like the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) between China and Asean.
The DOC aims to reduce tension in the region and prevent claimant-countries from acting forcefully on their stakes.
Asean is composed of the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia and Brunei Darussalam. Ashton said the European Union is working closely with Asean “in ways on how we can offer support to help use the convention” to conclude a COC.
The West Philippine Sea is being claimed in whole by China, and in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan.