PH asserts arbitral award on South China Sea, calls for greater ASEAN-US maritime cooperation

Published May 8, 2021, 8:49 AM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

The Philippines has highlighted the importance of the 2016 arbitral award as part of international law as tension in the South China Sea continues to grow among claimants.

Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs and Philippine SOM Leader Elizabeth P. Buensuceso highlights ASEAN-US cooperation in addressing regional and security issues at the 34th ASEAN-US Dialogue. (DFA-OUBRAA photo)

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) made the statement after the Philippines joined the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations-United States (ASEAN-US) Dialogue held via video conference on May 6.

In a statement, the DFA said Acting Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Affairs and Philippine Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) Leader Elizabeth Buensuceso represented the Philippines in the dialogue.

The DFA said Buensuceso also stressed the importance of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the midst of regional uncertainty in the South China Sea in her lead intervention during the meeting.

“Philippine SOM Leader Buensuceso spoke on the presence of foreign maritime militia vessels in Philippine maritime zones which not only infringes upon Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction but also threatens the security and stability in the region,” the DFA said.

Buensuceso recalled that the Philippines protested in the strongest terms the shadowing, blocking, dangerous maneuvers, and radio challenges by the Chinese Coast Guard against the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels during the latter’s maritime patrols and training exercises in Bajo de Masinloc in late April.

In his response, Ambassador Atul Keshap, head of the United States delegation, agreed with the Philippine position and reiterated US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s commitment to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that the US will stand by the side of their ASEAN allies, especially the Philippines.

The Philippines led the discussion on maritime cooperation and welcomed The US’s support and commitment to helping ASEAN members enhance maritime law enforcement capabilities through programs such as the Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative (SEAMLI) and the Maritime Security Initiative.

The country likewise underscored the need for enhanced collaboration in areas such as conservation of marine resources, the safety of navigation and communication at sea, and search and rescue operations, as outlined in the ASEAN-US Plan of Action 2021-2025.

“Maritime cooperation is a vital element, a solid foundation for the prosperity, peace, and continued work of ASEAN with our external partners like the United States,” Buensuceso said.

“We stand to succeed by combining our diverse knowledge in this very important area of cooperation,” she added.

During the dialogue, the US expressed concern over the worrisome activities that erode sovereignty, limit the rights of other states, and erode their ability to pursue the well-being of their people.

It further stated that unlawful maritime claims pose a serious threat to the freedom of navigation and overflight, which in turn affect trade and commerce that are so important to ASEAN countries.

According to the DFA, the United States conveyed its willingness for increased collaboration with the ASEAN Member States in assisting in the further development and integration of regional maritime data fusion and coordination centers in order to improve their law enforcement capabilities.

It also expressed concern over Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing, and hoped to explore sustainable transboundary fisheries management as a priority area under ASEAN-US maritime cooperation.

The meeting’s participants also reiterated calls for adherence to the rule of law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, the exercise of self-restraint, resolution of disputes by peaceful means, and undertaking of cooperative activities to build trust and confidence.