Adoption of a binding Code of Conduct over disputed portions of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) may just be a matter of time as most leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) share the notion that it is vital for success of regional integration next year.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., who is with President Benigno Aquino 3rd in the two-day Asean Summit in Myanmar, said Asean heads of states were supportive of the establishment of a sea code.
“They recognize this to be an important step forward in the work of Asean and they acknowledged that peaceful resolution is essential, especially in terms of pushing the agenda of regional economic integration,” he told reporters in an interview after the Asean plenary meeting.
“The peace and stability in the region is an important precondition for attaining a greater measure of economic progress,” Coloma said.
Earlier, Aquino called on the member-countries to “continue negotiations with China on the forging of a legally-binding Code of Conduct” of parties involved in the sea row. The President stressed that this will lead to “building a better, more inclusive and more prosperous Southeast Asia” for all nations of goodwill.
Coloma, quoting the President, said the Philippines made its position clear on three aspects that are geared “toward building a Southeast Asia that serves as a wellspring of empowerment” and inclusive growth — strengthen the foundations of regional cooperation and integration, develop and implement the economic strategies vital to Asean’s common vision and advocate the rule of law as basis for “positive engagement” and a “stable regional environment”.
“Most of the other heads of state supported the fleshing out of the Declaration of the Code of Conduct,” the Palace official added.
Coloma noted that there is an ongoing process–the Asean-China Summit led by Thailand–that has conducted four meetings, resulting in the agreement on adopting what they call “early harvest measures” namely: establishment of hotlines and tabletop measures that pertains to common action on search and rescue at sea.
“So, the process has already begun but the gist of what we are seeking is really a substantial fleshing out of the Declaration of Code of Conduct so that there will be a legally binding Code of Conduct because this process began more than ten years ago,” he pointed out.
“There has always been a building up of concern and especially in relation to the implementation of Asean integration, regional peace and stability is now seen as an important prerequisite,” Coloma said.
Aquino also proposed that Asean member-countries pursue strategies on greater connectivity, public-private partnership (PPP) and harmonize regulations in trade and investment, and energy sector integration.
He invited the other member-countries to participate in the Asean PPP Networking Forum to be held in Manila next month.
The forum will promote sharing of best practices in forging public-private partnerships as an innovative way to implement the master plan on Asean connectivity.
Aquino called for the further “harnessing of opportunities for harmonized engagement” through existing bilateral, trilateral and sub-regional arrangements, such as the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area and Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle.