EDITORIAL - The ASEAN way
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2012 - 12:00am

Last July in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations failed to hammer out a joint statement at the end of their annual meeting for the first time in 45 years. The failure reportedly stemmed from Cambodia’s refusal to include in the joint statement a reference to territorial disputes between China and several ASEAN members including the Philippines.

Yesterday, ASEAN leaders themselves failed to reach a consensus during their summit in Phnom Penh on ways of resolving maritime territorial disputes with China. President Aquino emphasized that the Philippines would continue bringing the dispute to multilateral and international venues for resolution. Beijing, supported by Phnom Penh, wants the disputes to be resolved bilaterally.

The latest developments in Cambodia, current holder of the revolving ASEAN chair, further shakes up the so-called ASEAN way of consensus building in confronting problems. China is laying claim to nearly all the waters around it, which cover vital shipping lanes and areas believed to be rich in mineral resources. The waters are shared by many countries, which should make territorial disputes a regional concern requiring multilateral resolution.

So far the only general consensus on the dispute is that it should be resolved peacefully. ASEAN and China are trying to agree on a Code of Conduct among claimants in the disputed areas. There are existing international mechanisms that can govern efforts to resolve overlapping claims. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a starting point. Both the Philippines and China are signatories to UNCLOS, which allots a 200-mile exclusive economic zone from a country’s coastline. As long as certain quarters refuse to see the territorial dispute as a multilateral issue, ASEAN will find itself increasingly unable to reach a consensus.

ASEAN ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS BEIJING BOTH THE PHILIPPINES AND CHINA CHINA CODE OF CONDUCT LAST JULY LAW OF THE SEA PHNOM PENH PRESIDENT AQUINO UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION
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