Noy: Asean can’t let any country claim entire sea
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - November 21, 2015 - 9:00am

KUALA LUMPUR – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must not allow any country – “no matter how powerful” – to claim an entire sea as its own and use force and intimidation to send its message across, President Aquino told a gathering of regional leaders yesterday.

Aquino delivered the message in a speech at the ASEAN-China summit here, in the presence of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

He said China should stop its massive land reclamation and other activities in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea and called on the Asian power to use might in fostering unity and progress and not in stirring up tension in the region. The Chinese have built airfields and other military facilities on reclaimed lands in the West Philippine Sea.

“We have not resolved, even amongst ASEAN members, the competing claims, especially among the Spratlys. These improvements further complicate and increase the difficulty of coming to compromises that will be necessary to prevent further tension from rising,” Aquino said.

He cited the importance of a rules-based approach in settling maritime disputes, as he noted the case filed by Manila against Beijing before an international arbitral tribunal based in The Hague.

In filing a case against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Philippines seeks to clarify once and for all its maritime entitlements in the disputed seas.

Aquino reminded regional leaders that arbitration had worked in the case of India versus Bangladesh.

Aquino said that while rival claimants should continue to work for a code of conduct in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, they should not wait for its completion to ensure and keep peace and stability in the region.

“At this point when we are trying to manage issues, does not conducting massive reclamation and building of structures in contested waters make our collective task harder? We believe it does. Features that were once of limited use now potentially have a lot of use in so many different areas; conceivably, such a situation makes the give-and-take more difficult for parties involved, making a previously complex issue even more complex,” Aquino said.

“None of us benefits in the long run; therefore, such actions should be stopped. This, at the very least, could return the issue to more manageable levels,” the President said.

Aquino said China must take the lead in pushing for mechanisms that would ensure stability and peaceful rise of the whole region.

A draft document showed the Philippines would like ASEAN to welcome the decision of the arbitral tribunal to assume jurisdiction over its case against China, stressing the importance of resolving disputes through peaceful means, in accordance with international law including 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“China’s economy is larger than that of the entire ASEAN; its population is larger than that of all ASEAN nations combined. Any uncertainty in the region affects more of their people. Is it not therefore reasonable to expect China to take the lead in pushing for mechanisms that ensure stability, so that a peaceful rise may truly be achieved, not only by China, but the entire region?” Aquino argued.

“Likewise, all of our cultures tell us of the value of respecting elders; China claims to be among the oldest civilizations. We therefore hope that it sets an example for the rest of the region and take the lead in promoting harmony among neighbors,” Aquino said.

Uncertainty stalls growth

Aquino emphasized that increasing tensions and uncertainty were factors that would hamper momentum towards collective prosperity.

“The conclusion of a code of conduct (in) the South China Sea would be a fitting symbol of the maturing relationship between ASEAN and China,” the President said.

“It has been 13 years since the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea forged our collective commitment to address disputes peacefully and with good will. We should not wait any longer to establish the Code of Conduct and reinforce, without ambiguity or reservation, our political will with respect to the issue,” Aquino said.

In his speech delivered during the plenary session of the ASEAN members, Aquino told fellow leaders that the region’s stability and prosperity were under threat “by unilateral actions such as the massive reclamation and building of structures on features in the Spratly islands.” He said such alarming developments have urgent and far-reaching implications in the region and the international community.

The President emphasized the Philippines has always adhered to the rule of law, and that its decision to resort to arbitration reflected its belief “that it is a transparent, friendly, durable and peaceful dispute settlement mechanism that can bring stability to the region.”

“We welcome the arbitral tribunal’s decision on jurisdiction, and look forward to the next round of hearings, scheduled for next week at The Hague,” Aquino said.

“The Philippines remains committed to pursuing arbitration to its final conclusion, and will abide by its decisions,” he pointed out.

The President repeated his message during the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan and South Korea) Summit, the ASEAN-India Summit and the ASEAN-US Summit to press for freedom of navigation and overflight.

The President, during the ASEAN-India Summit, also expressed appreciation for India’s opposition “to the threat or use of force, as well as its affirmation of the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring the freedom of navigation and overflight, particularly in disputed areas” in the South China Sea.

He said India was supportive of the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS, as it had already shown determination to settle disputes by peaceful means.

“Its acceptance of the decision on their Bay of Bengal maritime boundary case with Bangladesh shows that arbitration is not a hostile act but is, in fact, a conciliatory move mutually beneficial not only to direct stakeholders, but also to the entire global community,” Aquino said.

“Through efforts like this, we underscore the paramount importance of the rule of law, which consequently fosters multilateral relationships guided by mutual respect and transparent and honest dialogue,” he said.

The President said the tribunal clearly stated that its decision was legally-binding “and as a responsible member of the community of nations, the Philippines is committed to following India’s fine example in abiding by the decision of the tribunal.” 


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