Growing concerns about China’s increasing boldness in staking its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is likely to dominate the leaders’ summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which starts Saturday in Myanmar.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who is scheduled to fly today to Myanmar, is expected to express the Philippines’ apprehension over rising tensions in the disputed waters.
The summit comes on the heels of a near confrontation between Chinese ships and a Filipino vessel bringing supplies to Philippine Marines on Ayungin Shoal in March.
Vietnam, another Asean member, may also be eager to voice its fears about China’s aggressive moves. Early this week, Chinese vessels rammed Vietnamese fishing boats that were approaching a Chinese-owned oil rig off the Vietnamese coast.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said President Aquino will push for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC) for the West Philippine Sea.
The code is meant to reduce the risk of violence in the sea and spur the marine environmental protection and research in the area.
“I think the other Asean countries also share our desire to have an early conclusion of the COC and I think this sentiment has been expressed in the previous Asean meetings, in the previous Asean statements,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said in an earlier interview.
He said an expression of “strong desire” from the other leaders will provide the members the mandate needed to work on the code.
Jose said the Philippines “is encouraged by the recent developments” in the drafting of the document.
“There have been three meetings thus far since September 2013; and we take note of the discussions of the working groups on the crafting of the COC,” he added.
Aside from the code, Jose said Aquino is likely to inform his fellow leaders about the progress of the Philippines’ memorial submission before the tribunal on the law of the sea.
He added that there will also likely be discussions on the general situation in the West Philippine Sea, and a shared “statement of concern” by Asean on the situation, as well as an expression of desire to resolve disputes peacefully.
It will be Aquino’s second visit to Myanmar since he assumed office in 2010. He was in that country in June 2013 for the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Also up for discussion are regional concerns about the economy and security and the emergence of the Asean community by 2015.
The two-day summit will be held at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Nay Pyi Taw.
Upon his arrival, the President will attend the welcome dinner to be hosted by Myanmar President U Thein Sein for all Asean leaders and their delegations.
On Sunday, he will attend the 24th Asean Summit Plenary; the 24th Asean Summit Retreat; the Asean Leaders’ Interface Meeting with Representatives of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly; the Asean Leaders Interface Meeting with Representatives of the Civil Society Organizations; and the Asean Leaders Meeting with Asean Youth.