The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should take the initiative to pursue diplomatic action within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) amid China’s increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the ASEAN should stand together against China’s “bullying” and strengthen its cooperation to counter Beijing’s territorial claims in the region.
“The ASEAN should stand together against China’s bullying. We should put our differences aside and work towards the common goal of opposing unfounded and over-ambitious Chinese territorial claims in the region,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“The ASEAN should be able to compel China to reach a consensus on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea,” she stressed.
The senator warned that if ASEAN fails to adopt a common stand on the South China Sea, the Philippines couldn’t safeguard “our shared interests.”
She said Southeast Asia, on its own, should also still take a common stand through a dialogue within the member states for the first round of talks, then engage China in the framework of and towards an ASEAN-China Code of Conduct.
“We have repeatedly called on China to respect our seas, our sovereignty, and our people, but these have fallen on deaf ears,” she stressed.
“Ayaw makinig ng Tsina, ayaw din sumunod sa batas, kaya dapat magkaisa ang ASEAN kung paano harapin ang Tsina (China refuses to listen, does not follow the laws, that’s why the ASEAN nations should unite on how to face China,” the senator added.
Hontiveros said it is imperative that disputes are resolved through dialogue within the framework of the existing international rules-based order.
For the opposition lawmaker, an ASEAN coalition could be “the best way of assuring territorial integrity, mutual security, and continued peace.”
“Within ASEAN, it is clear that the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should govern the conduct of competing claimants in the South China Sea. A commitment to multilateralism and a respect for international law has always avowedly been the ASEAN way,” she said.
“In contrast, the current strategy being pursued by the Chinese government is to use its economic and military dominance to impose its will upon the region and make its outrageous and excessive territorial claims a fait accompli,” Hontiveros noted.
She further pointed out Beijing’s “greed” for territory and power has led to the unilateral and aggressive expansion of the military outposts on its artificial islands as well as the intrusion of its maritime militia into the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
These actions are in blatant violation of the UNCLOS, she said.
“It’s infuriating that China is taking advantage of a global crisis to consolidate its territorial claims in the region by parking its military vessels within our EEZ. A People’s Liberation Navy ship even aimed its gun control director toward the BRP Conrado Yap last year. Hindi lang sila ‘business-as-usual’ sa gitna ng pandemya, nambabanta-as-usual pa (they’re not just being ‘business-as-usual’ mode during the middle of the pandemic, they are also threatening the usual way),” she lamented.
Hontiveros said the DFA should work with the Department of National Defense (DND) in its discussion within the ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific Region.
“China has committed itself to a strategy based on its individual strength. But we, in the Philippines, with the help of the entire ASEAN, should resist, she stressed.