ASEAN takes stronger stand on South China Sea issue

Published November 15, 2018, 9:43 AM

by Patrick Garcia

By Argyll Cyrus Geducos

SINGAPORE–Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) expressed concern over reclamation activities in the South China Sea which they think eroded trust and confidence in the region.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during the ASEAN-ROK summit on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim/ MANILA BULLETIN)
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during the ASEAN-ROK summit on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim/ MANILA BULLETIN)

In the Chairman Statement, the ASEAN, chaired by Singapore Prime Minister Lee HsienLoong, took note the activities in the disputed resource-filled waterway.

“We discussed the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” the statement read.

The ASEAN leaders stressed the importance of a peaceful resolution on the South China Sea.

“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” the statement furthered.

“We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC (Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea,” it added.

The regional bloc, meanwhile, reaffirmed to promote peace, stability, and security in Southeast Asia.

“We reaffirmed our shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” they added.

Last year, the ASEAN statement was supposed to address China’s actions in the disputed waters but dropped the reference to it in the final statement. This was the first time in several years that the chairman’s statement did not express “concern” and excluded references to specific activities by China in the South China Sea, including the building of man-made islands with military fortifications.

The 28-page chairman’s statement last year during President Duterte chairmanship of the ASEAN, however, “took note of the improving relations between ASEAN and China.”

No to military drills

But President Duterte opposes any military drills in the disputed South China Sea, saying it will only create tension among claimants of the resource-filled waterway.

Duterte made the statement at the sidelines of the last day of the 33rd Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related summits here Thursday.

In a doorstop interview, Duterte, who is also the head coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership, said nations can count the Philippines out if they are planning to go to war over the South China Sea.

“No, because – it’s not military drills because I said China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands. So why do you have to create frictions – strong – military activity that will prompt a response from China?”Duterte said when asked if it is wise to hold military drills in the disputed waters.

“I do not mind everybody going to war, except that the Philippines is just beside those islands. And if there’s a shooting there, my country will be the first to suffer. That’s my only in – that is my only national interest there. Nothing else,” he added.

Duterte said that he will do his best to usher in the completion of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

“I’m the country coordinator for ASEAN-China. I will try my best. I made a very strong statement yesterday about the urgent need for a COC so that everybody will know,” he said.

According to Duterte, other countries should now accept the fact that China is already in the disputed waters and instead do its part to keep the region safe and stable.

“Because when you claim an ocean, the whole of it, then that is a new a development in today’s world. So any sense, it would also change – radical changes in the laws of governing international waters, particularly the right of free passage or the right of innocent passage,” he said.

“And all of these things, China is there. That’s a reality and America and everybody should realize that they are there,” he added.

“So if you just keep on creating friction, little friction, one day a bad miscalculation could turn things – Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong,” he continued.

The Philippines vowed to take an active role in the COC negotiations when it assumed the role of coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021.

What’s wrong with my naps?

Meanwhile, President Duterte said he was ready to attend all events scheduled for the last day of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related summits here after skipping most of the events that took place Wednesday.

In a doorstop interview at the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre, Duterte defended his absence in six of the 11 events scheduled on Wednesday. Malacañang earlier explained that Duterte’s “punishing schedule” hindered Duterte from attending some summits.

“Still not good enough but enough to sustain the endurance for the last days,” Duterte said when asked if he was finally able to get enough sleep.

“What’s wrong with my nap? I do not eat breakfast and I’m sure you ladies know that,” he added.

Duterte arrived at the convention center early Thursday in time for the ASEAN-India Informal Breakfast Summit with his fellow Southeast Asian leaders and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He, however, missed the photo opportunity and was represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary TeodoroLocsin Jr. who filled in for him in the events he missed the day before.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that President Duterte decided to skip some events in order to catch some sleep after staying awake to attend to some matters until 3 a.m.

“In those instances where he did not attend… he took power naps to catch on sleep,” he added.

The Palace official, however, assured that Duterte’s absence has nothing to do with his physical health and well-being which have been the subject of speculation.