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Duterte: ‘South China Sea military action to create further friction’

Christina Mendez, Artemio Dumlao - The Philippine Star
Duterte: âSouth China Sea military action to create further frictionâ
“And in all of these things, China is there. That’s a reality and America and everybody should realize that they are there,” Duterte told reporters yesterday on the sidelines of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit here.
KJ Rosales

SINGAPORE –  With Beijing already in possession of vast areas in the South China Sea, the United States and other countries should just accept this “reality” and avoid creating “friction” that could lead to full-scale military confrontation, President Duterte said yesterday.

“And in all of these things, China is there. That’s a reality and America and everybody should realize that they are there,” Duterte told reporters yesterday on the sidelines of the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit here.

“So if you just keep on creating friction, little friction, one day a bad miscalculation could turn things… Murphy’s Law – if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong,” he said.

He stressed military drills could spark hostilities in the region “because I said China is already in possession. It’s now in their hands.” 

He said military exercises could be seen as provocation that could “prompt a response from China.”

The Chief Executive explained he was actually protecting national sovereignty in taking a more peaceful approach to dealing with China.

“I do not mind everybody going to war, except that the Philippines is just beside those islands. And if there’s a shooting there, my country will be the first to suffer,” he said.

“That’s my only – that is my only national interest there. Nothing else,” Duterte added.

As the country-coordinator of ASEAN-China dialog, Duterte reiterated he would try his best to facilitate the release of a code of conduct (COC) on South China Sea in three years.  

“I will try my best. I made a very strong statement about the urgent need for a COC so that everybody will know,” he said. “Because when you claim an ocean, the whole of it, then that is a new development in today’s world,” he added.

Duterte noted there might be a need to review or even make radical changes in international laws, particularly on the right of innocent passage.

“So, any sense, it would also change – radical changes in the laws of governing international waters, particularly the right of free passage or the right of innocent passage,” he said.

Under the principle of innocent passage, vessels are allowed to pass through territorial waters of other states subject to certain restrictions.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a passage is “innocent” if it is “not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.” 

Self-restraint

Amid Duterte’s call for the US and other nations to avoid provocative actions in the South China Sea, ASEAN members reiterated the need for self-restraint in the conduct of activities in disputed waters.

“We discussed the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement.

“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” Lee said.

“We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea and recognized the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity,” he added.

Lee underscored the importance of a full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety.

In the same statement, Lee also underscored the ASEAN and China’s dialogue on the South China Sea issue.

“We warmly welcomed the continued improving cooperation between ASEAN and China and were encouraged by the progress of the substantive negotiations towards the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) on a mutually-agreed timeline,” he maintained.

“We noted that ASEAN member-states and China had agreed on a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text,” Lee pointed out.

In this regard, Lee emphasized the need for maintaining an environment conducive to COC negotiations.

“We stressed the importance of undertaking confidence-building and preventive measures to enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties,” the prime minister said.

Sovereignty protected

Foreign affairs chief Teodoro Locsin Jr., who was part of the presidential delegation to Singapore, reiterated the Philippines’ strong position against giving up even an “inch or iota” of its sovereignty.

Locsin was mum on Duterte’s earlier remarks that China is already in possession of some areas not its own in the South China Sea.

Asked about reactions to ASEAN’s or Duterte’s call for restraint, Locsin said China for one did not say anything.

“But the President was very clear: Let’s exercise restraint and there was no response, which is you can interpret it as you want but it was rather bold of our President to bring it up. The use of the word restraint,” Locsin said.

Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo, for his part, welcomed the formal announcement of the designation of the Philippines as the new country coordinator for the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations.   

“With the President’s pragmatic, transparent and diplomatic orientation in his foreign policies, our country’s designation will significantly play a pivotal role in bridging a more solid partnership between ASEAN and China,” Panelo said.

He also lashed out at critics for questioning Duterte’s move to consult China on the creation of the COC.

“He is the one irresponsible because he is not even understanding what the President was saying,” Panelo said, referring to Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, an opposition lawmaker.

“What the President was saying is he wants to know exactly the sentiments of China so he can relay them to the members of the ASEAN because he is supposed to be the coordinator,” Panelo said.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) warned Duterte is dragging the country to a potential armed conflict between the US and China.

“His double-sided betrayal of the country’s national sovereignty puts the country at great risk of getting caught right in between a likely outbreak of armed hostilities between the American and Chinese imperialists,” CPP said.

“Duterte’s shameless subservience to the US, sell-out of Philippine sovereignty to China and inability to pursue a policy of active peace has led to his failure to oppose the militarization of the SCS by both powers.”

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