Duterte presses Asean on sea Code of Conduct
“As country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, together with fellow ASEAN member-states, the Philippines will continue to push for the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” President Duterte told the summit.

Duterte presses Asean on sea Code of Conduct

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2019 - 12:00am

BANGKOK – President Duterte expressed dismay over the delay in negotiations for crafting a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said last night.

“The Chief Executive explained that the longer the delay for an early conclusion of the COC, the higher the probability of maritime incidents happening and the greater the chance for miscalculations that may spiral out of control,” Panelo said.

He said the President made the pitch during the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit wherein Duterte stressed that he is not beholden to or afraid of any foreign country.

“As country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, together with fellow ASEAN member-states, the Philippines will continue to push for the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” Duterte told the summit.

Duterte brought the Reed Bank incident before his fellow leaders when he put on record how Vietnamese fishermen helped the 22 distressed Filipino fishermen on June 9.

Duterte also took the occasion to thank Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, as well as the captain and crew of the Vietnamese fishing vessel that saved the Filipino fishermen.

Duterte joined the ASEAN leaders to fast-track the completion of an effective COC in the disputed South China Sea, taking his cue from the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto (Reed) Bank last June 9.

The 10-member ASEAN vowed to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that would complicate the situation in the South China Sea.

“(The ASEAN leaders) reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the statement said.

The leaders agreed to “pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), while enhancing mutual trust and confidence.”

The ASEAN has been in talks with China to negotiate a nonaggression pact called the “code of conduct’” to prevent major armed clashes in the offshore region, which has long been regarded as an Asian flashpoint.

The ASEAN leaders put premium on the need to implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and the need to finalize the COC.

They also vowed to “work actively towards the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”

Confidence building measures

This year’s host, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha led the 34th ASEAN Summit that concluded yesterday.

The Thai prime minister opened the summit with a call for regional unity and a push for the 10-nation ASEAN bloc to conclude a massive free trade pact with China and five other Asia-Pacific nations to cushion any impact from America’s trade conflicts with China.

In their public communiqués, the leaders have avoided naming the US and China or specific nations embroiled in controversial issues in a show of their conservative protocols.

The leaders, however, could raise thorny issues in a closed-door and informal session.

Duterte took part in the summit and meetings, where the vision statement was discussed by the leaders.

In the ASEAN Leaders’ vision statement on partnership for solidarity, the regional leaders vowed to “promote regional peace and stability by practicing and enhancing confidence-building measures” in resolving maritime claims.

These measures include the adherence to the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, the Guidelines for Air Military Encounters, Guidelines for Maritime Interaction and the ASEAN Direct Communications Infrastructure, all aimed at promoting communication, mutual trust and confidence, and reduce miscalculations and mishaps in the air and at sea.

The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest waterways, and a potential flashpoint in the region as several ASEAN members as well as China and Taiwan have conflicting territorial claims.

While China has praised the negotiations as a show of Asian nations’ ability to manage their conflicts peacefully, critics doubt if such a code of conduct can make a difference given Beijing’s increasingly aggressive assertion of its claims in the strategic waters.

They cite China’s construction of artificial islands on seven disputed reefs in recent years despite it being a party to a 2002 non-binding regional agreement discouraging such assertive actions.

China initially claimed some of the islands would serve as storm shelters for fishermen but Beijing instead installed defensive missile systems there while its naval forces shoo away and warn US and other ships and aircraft that stray near.

Terrorism and radicalization

During the summit, the ASEAN leaders also called for unity and solidarity as they highlighted ASEAN’s central role in maintaining and promoting peace, stability, harmony and prosperity in the region.

The ASEAN-member states include Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

The 10 leaders vowed to work for sustainable security in the region by reinforcing strategic trust and mutual confidence within ASEAN and in the wider Asia-Pacific region.

They also reaffirmed the principles of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) as well as its application to this wider region.

The bloc also committed to strengthen defense cooperation to tackle traditional and non-traditional security challenges, while upholding the principles of ASEAN centrality, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consensus-based decision making, participation on the basis of flexible, voluntary and non-binding nature with assets remaining under national command and control.

The ASEAN also worked to combat terrorism through intensified cooperation and information exchanges.

Member states vowed to “cooperate effectively” in dealing with terrorism “in all its forms and manifestations.”

The ASEAN, as a bloc, also committed to “prevent and counter the rise of radicalization and violent extremism” as enshrined in the Manila Declaration adopted in 2017 and the ASEAN Plan of Action to Prevent and Counter the Rise of Radicalization and Violent Extremism adopted in 2018.

The bloc also vowed to strengthen cooperation on border management in accordance with domestic laws and policies to better safeguard the increasingly interconnected and integrated ASEAN Community.

They reaffirmed their commitment to fight common concerns such as transnational crime, human trafficking, illegal wildlife trade, drug trafficking and cross-border challenges including pandemics. The issue of cybercrime was also tackled by the body.

“ (We) commit to progressing negotiations on the ASEAN Extradition Treaty to strengthen ASEAN’s resilience and capacity to combat transnational crimes, and enhance cooperation within ASEAN to ensure respect for the rule of law,” the vision statement read.

In his press conference at the end of the summit, Chan-o-cha underscored the need to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations to make it the largest economic activity in the world.

Formed more than 50 years ago, the ASEAN has historically struggled with challenges facing the region because it works only by consensus and is reluctant to become involved in any matter regarded as internal to a member state. – With AP, Reuters

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