Senators push âunited standâ, multilateral approach on South China Sea dispute
File photo shows flags of ASEAN's members states.
The STAR/File

Senators push ‘united stand’, multilateral approach on South China Sea dispute

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - April 6, 2021 - 8:21pm

MANILA, Philippines — Three senators on Tuesday said the government must work with other countries in order to effectively stand up to Beijing's actions in the West Philippine Sea. 

Tension over the presence of hundreds of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea escalated in recent days as its embassy took on both the departments of defense and foreign affairs in a word war. 

On Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs warned that it would lodge a diplomatic protest for every day China's ships continue to linger within the Julian Felipe Reef and other areas within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. 

But Sen. Panfilo Lacson said diplomatic protests would not be enough to derail China, which has repeatedly proven to be unfazed by them.

"[P]erhaps China would not be so dismissive if we and our allies, both in the Asia-Pacific and the West, show we can band together to maintain a balance of power in the region, including the West Philippine Sea," he said. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations "should stand together against China’s bullying." ASEAN's member states are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

"We should put our differences aside and work towards the common goal of opposing unfounded and over-ambitious Chinese territorial claims in the region," Hontiveros added. 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, during an interview with DZRH, said the Philippines and other countries with claims in the South China Sea should present a "unified stand" against Beijing's actions. 

In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims in the South China Sea. 

Long-delayed Code of Conduct pushed

Hontiveros also emphasized the need for ASEAN members to persuade China to agree to a consensus on the Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea — a legally binding agreement that has been delayed for years. 

“If ASEAN does not adopt a common stand on the South China Sea, we cannot safeguard our shared interests."

"We have repeatedly called on China to respect our seas, our sovereignty, and our people, but these have fallen on deaf ears. China does not want to listen, nor does it want to follow the law, so ASEAN must unite on how to deal with China," Hontiveros said partially in Filipino. 

Talks on the Single Draft Code of Conduct Negotiating Text (SDNT) of ASEAN and China on the South China Sea ground to a halt after the pandemic forced the postponement of meetings between states. 

In September 2020, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he would push to complete the second reading of the SDNT before the Philippines turned over chairmanship of negotiations to Myanmar in 2021. 

No update on the status of COC negotiations has been made public since. 

Amid its incursions in the West Philippine Sea, the United States, the European Union, Australia, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand have called on China to adhere to rules-based order consistent with international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

Beijing has repeatedly scorned such calls from the international community, stressing bilateral approaches to the maritime dispute. 

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