The Philippines has made another pitch for the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea to avoid escalating tension among claimants.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte hopes the code of conduct will be finalized as he pressed for a peaceful and rules-based resolution to the territorial conflict.
Tension in the region has been reignited after the Philippines protested the unlawful stay of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea. The government earlier raised alarm over the presence of over 200 Chinese maritime militia vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef last month. The number of Chinese ships at the local reef has reportedly dwindled but the vessels simply spread to other parts of the local waters.
“Umaasa po tayo na magkakaroon tayo ng Code of Conduct nang maiwasan ang hidwaan diyan sa lugar na iyan (We are hoping there will be a code of conduct to avoid the conflict in the area),” Roque said during an online briefing Tuesday, April 13.
“Inaasahan natin mariresolba po ito nang mapayapa sa panig ng mga magkakaibigan (We are also hopeful this could be resolved peacefully between friends),” he added.
A substantive and effective code of conduct in the South China Sea is still being negotiated by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China since the first non-binding declaration was forged in 2002. The group earlier agreed to finalize the code by 2022 but negotiations have reportedly been derailed by the movement restrictions arising from the pandemic.
Apart from the Philippines, ASEAN member-nations Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea.
Roque said the President’s position on the West Philippine Sea has not changed, citing an arbitral ruling that nullified China’s claims over the area.
“Kinakailangan maresolba po ang hindi pagkakasunduan diyan sa West Philippine Sea sa pamamagitan po ng UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (The conflict in the West Philippine Sea must be resolved through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Roque said.
“Nandiyan po ang desisyon ng ating UN Tribunal for the Law of the Sea na nagsasabi na walang basehan ang tinatawag na historic claims to waters at kinikilala po na ang malaking bahagi ng West Philippine Sea ay kabahagi ng ating exclusive economic zone (The UN Tribunal for the Law for the Law of the Sea has ruled that its historic claims to water have no basis and it recognized the large part fo the West Philippine Sea is part of our exclusive economic zone),” he added.
Manila has asked Beijing to pull out its vessels from local waters, insisting the country’s sovereign rights over the territory. China however ignored the country’s plea, insisting the fishing vessels were taking shelter from rough seas and that no militia were onboard.