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Philippines admits wanting land reclamation, militarization out of ASEAN communique

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Pter Cayetano gestures during a news conference following the conclusion of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM) and Related Meetings at the Philippine International Convention Center in suburban Pasay city southeast of Manila, Philippines, Tuesday Aug.8, 2017. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines (First Published August 8, 9:20 p.m.) — The Philippines' top diplomat on Tuesday admitted that he did not want to include concerns on China's land reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea in the ASEAN foreign ministers' joint communique.

The joint communique issued Sunday evening, however, turned out to mention "non-militarization" and "self-restraint" among the conduct of parties in the disputed waters.

READ: ASEAN stresses self-restraint, non-militarization in South China Sea

The statement appears to be softer than the joint communique issued last year under the chairmanship of Laos. That communique expressed grave concern over China's militarization of its artificial islands.

"I didn’t want to include it. It’s not reflective of the present position. They’re not reclaiming land anymore. Why will you put it again this year?" Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a press briefing.

Cayetano explained that the final joint communique this year was a result of compromise as some ASEAN member states wanted a "stronger" statement on the South China Sea while the others wanted a "weaker" one.

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"Whether the land reclamation [statement] was there or not and it is there, the reality on the ground is that people have stopped reclaiming and the reality on the ground is not it’s just not China who did reclamation," the Philippines' top diplomat said.

The Foreign Affairs secretary also said the Aquino administration framing the situation in the South China Sea as "Philippines versus China."

The Philippines, under the Aquino administration, filed an arbitration case before a United Nations-backed tribunal challenging China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. The international tribunal issued an award in favor of Manila in 2016, invalidating Beijing's expansive claims over the contested waters.

China not an enemy

Cayetano, on the other hand, said that the Philippines should not see China as its enemy.

"We are not pro-China, pro-US, pro-Japan, pro- whatever. We’re pro-Philippines and we’re pro-ASEAN and because we’re pro-ASEAN and we’re pro-Philippines, we are good friends to China, we are good friends to Japan, we are good friends to US and we will appreciate not being told what to do because we are a sovereign nation," he said.

The secretary added his position on the coominique was based on the instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte. He stressed that the president never said that he is abandoning the arbitral ruling.

READ: Duterte wants to set aside arbitral ruling — for now

"He never said he’d abandon the decision. He never said tearing it apart," Cayetano said, adding that Duterte said he would set the ruling aside first but would bring it up at the appropriate time.

Cayetano appears to echo Duterte's earlier statements that he does not want to go to war with China.

"What I’m driving at is results. Ano ba ang gusto natin away o magkaayos tayo dyan sa South China Sea? Do we want to just pick a fight for the sake of picking a fight or do we want our interest protected in the South China Sea?" Cayetano said.

"It’s not about words or about document, look at the actions. Look at the strength of the relationship, look at the direction," he added.

Malacañang earlier claimed that the relationship between the Philippines and China have improved more than a year after the arbitration award. Since then, the two countries have started a bilateral consultation mechanism to settle the maritime dispute.

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