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Yasay says joint communiqué a victory for ASEAN

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. gestures to point a paragraph in the ASEAN commnuniqué released earlier this week in Vientiane, Laos, during a news conference on the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting and ASEAN Regional Forum in Vientiane, Laos Wednesday, July 27, 2016, at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Philippines. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay on Wednesday said the lack of a direct mention of the Philippines' victory in an arbitration case against China in a joint communiqué issued by the Association of Southeast Nations does not necessarily mean a diplomatic victory for China.

"This is a victory for ASEAN for upholding the principles of international law," Yasay said in a televised press briefing at the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said that the ASEAN had affirmed that it will resolve maritime disputes through international law, particularly under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Quoting from Paragraph 2 of the communiqué, Yasay pointed out that the ASEAN has "(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 recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."

He said that "this is now a fundamental policy that has been enshrined in this joint communiqué of ASEAN."

Yasay said that ASEAN did mention the South China Sea dispute in its joint communiqué, particularly in expressing concern, "over recent and ongoing developments and took note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area."

Yasay said that he had "vigorously" pushed to have the arbitral tribunal victory mentioned in the communiqué but "knew there was a middle ground" that could be reached so the ASEAN could issue a joint communiqué at all.

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Besides the communiqué, the Southeast Asia grouping also came up with a separate statement on the South China Sea to reaffirm commitments made to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002.

"We were able to finally steer the discussions and deliberations so that ASEAN not only came up with a joint communique that recognized the importance of international law, and the 1982 UNCLOS in resolving our disputes, we were able to come up with a unified statement that precisely upheld the core foundation upon which ASEAN is founded," he said.

He noted that ASEAN has had trouble in the past coming up with a unified statement on the South China Sea dispute.

He said that the arbitral tribunal decision, which held that China's nine-dash line claim over a large part of the South China Sea, including the part that Manila claims and calls the West Philippine Sea, provides a legal basis for diplomatic processes towards a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

Bilateral talks with China soon

Yasay noted reports that former President Fidel Ramos has accepted the role of special envoy to China over the South China Sea dispute and said that he hopes the talks will start as soon as possible.

"We are hoping China could come up with a position that would allow bilateral talks," he said.

China refused to participate in the arbitration case and has rejected the tribunal's ruling.

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