President Duterte brought up the Ayungin Shoal incident during the country’s participation in the ASEAN-China Special Summit on Monday, Nov. 22.
ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which the Philippines is a founding member. Regional power China is a dialgue partner of the bloc.
“Your Majesty, excellencies, we are friends and close neighbors. Our destines are tied to each other and geography has made it irrevocably so. Allow me to speak with candor. The South China Sea is strategic challenge that cannot be solved by force. We all want to benefit from the bounties of the vital maritime domain,” said Duterte, who joined the special summit via video conference.
“We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments. This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership,” Duterte said.
He further noted that “UNCLOS and the 2016 Arbitral Award provide legal clarity…pointing us to a just and fair solution to our disputes. We must fully utilize these legal tools to ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, stability and prosperity.”
UNCLOS refers to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, while the Arbital Award refers the Philippines’s historic win in the case it filed before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) against China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The PCA ruling invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim, which encroaches on territories of other countries, like the Philippines.
Duterte likewise told China during the special summit to remain committed to the conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
“There is simply no other way out of this colossal problem but the rule of law,” the Philippine leader said.
Last Nov. 16, three Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked and fired water cannons on two Philippine boats transporting supplies to military personnel in Ayungin Shoal. Ayungin lies 105 nautical miles (194 kilometers) west of Palawan province in the Philippines and is within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Philippine Department of Foreign (DFA) protested the action, relaying its “outrage, condemnation, and protest” against what it called the “illegal” acts of the Chinese Coast Guard.
Duterte called on stakeholders to exercise utmost self-restraint, avoid the escalation of tensions and work towards the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.
“We all pledged adherence to the rule of law including the 1982 [UNCLOS]. Let us the walk our talk and movie forward. Acta non verba–which means, ‘Deeds not words,'” he said.
“We must realize these legal tools to ensure that South China Sea remains a sea of peace, stability and prosperity. That is why China must remain committed to the early conclusion of the effective and substantive code of conduct in the South China Sea,” he added.
Also during the special summit, Duterte underlined the depth and breadth of the 30-year partnership between ASEAN and China, adding that “China deserves its status as ASEAN’s
Comprehensive Strategic Partner”.
He noted China’s timely assistance to ASEAN’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic response efforts, highlighting that China was the first dialogue partner ASEAN engaged when the pandemic broke out and the first to provide life-saving vaccines and medical
Duterte reckoned that enhanced multilateralism and connectivity will be the drivers of inclusive and comprehensive recovery. He also welcomed China’s ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
Joining the President during the Summit were Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Secretary of Trade and Industry Ramon Lopez, Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert E.A. Borje, Social Welfare and Development Undersecretary Luzviminda Ilagan, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Daniel Espiritu, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Nathaniel Imperial and Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty.