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Asean, US, EU vow to ensure sea rights

World leaders attend the 12th East Asia Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City yesterday.

MANILA, Philippines — Ensuring maritime security in the South China Sea – with freedom of navigation and overflight guaranteed – is a commitment the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United States and the European Union (EU) have agreed to uphold.

The ASEAN-US position was contained in a joint statement issued after their commemorative summit marking the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations.

The same position was issued jointly by the ASEAN and the EU.

In their joint statement, ASEAN and the US stressed their support for mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality and political independence of all nations by firmly upholding the principles and purposes of the charters of the United Nations and the ASEAN, which emphasize the importance of international law and the right of every nation to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion.

ASEAN and the US, based on their statement,  maintain a shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“We are dedicated to maintaining peace, security and stability in the region, and to ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas, and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce as described in the 1982 UNCLOS as well as non-militarization and self restraint in the conduct of activities,” the statement said.

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“We have a shared commitment to promote cooperation to address common challenges in the maritime domain,” it read. It was the White House which released the joint statement.

“They further underscored the need to continue pursuing confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence, and to refrain from actions that would escalate tensions, including militarization,” the statement said.

The same message is highlighted in the joint ASEAN-EU statement.

“We underline the importance of the respect of the rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, and peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the relevant standards and recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO),” the ASEAN-EU statement said.

ASEAN and China agreed on Monday to start talks on the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said leaders of ASEAN and China, in their statements delivered during the ASEAN-China Summit on Monday, agreed to start talks on the COC based on a framework approved in Manila last August.

On Friday, Trump called on nations to deal “decisively” with issues on territorial expansion and threats to security.

In his speech at the Asia-Pacific Economc Cooperation CEO Summit in Da Nang earlier this month, Trump stressed the importance of upholding the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight – a reference to China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

The region’s future, he said, depends on the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight.

“We must also deal decisively with other threats to our security and the future of our children such as criminal cartels, human smuggling, drugs, corruption, cyber crime and territorial expansion,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito is urging the administration to continue pursuing the country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea using the country’s legal victory before an international arbitral tribunal in The Hague as its basis.

“We should still pursue the victory in The Hague and defend our territorial integrity at all costs. China obviously has been bullying us and the smaller ASEAN nations. The only way we can stand up against a superpower like China is for ASEAN nations to unite,” Ejercito said.

Sen. Leila de Lima chided Duterte for not taking any action against China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea, even calling him a “lapdog” of the Chinese.

“The AFP should take note that their commander-in-chief is fast becoming, if he is not yet, the proverbial Manchurian Candidate. Since when has the AFP taken orders conveyed from the generals of the People’s Liberation Army?” De Lima said.

“To the officers and men of the AFP, you have a long history of heroes and patriots. You should know treason when it rears its ugly head in your motherland,” she said.

“He is balancing between our national interest as well as the external conflicts that beset our country,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, for his part, said. – Marvin Sy

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