by Carlos Maningat
President Benigno Aquino III said he will urge fellow leaders at the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional meeting in Myanmar to address the threat posed by China’s territorial claims over most of the South China.
While not all members of the ASEAN are locked in territorial disputes with China, Aquino said China’s actions to assert its claims pose regional implications.
“This step mirrors our belief that an issue that affects all countries in the region cannot be effectively resolved merely through a dialogue between two countries,” Aquino said in his speech before flying to Myanmar on Saturday.
“We wish to emphasize, uphold and follow the rule of law in resolving these territorial issues so that the rights of all countries involved will be recognized and respected,” he added.
In March, Manila filed a case at a United Nations tribunal to challenge China’s claims to most of the maritime territory despite Beijing’s warning that the move would damage bilateral ties.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said ASEAN should come up with a common position to uphold peace and security in the region “in the spirit of centrality and unity.”
Recently, Philippine authorities arrested 11 Chinese fishermen in the disputed waters to uphold “sovereign rights.”
Aside from China and the Philippines, other countries which have overlapping claims are Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia.
Singapore has also expressed concern over the incidents in the disputed territory, saying ASEAN cannot remain silent.
“We have to be neutral. Vietnam will have one version, China will have another version of the events…It’s difficult for Asean to take sides but neutrality doesn’t mean staying silent,” Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said in a report.
Vietnam is also expected to raise the issue at the regional meeting, following the latest incident in its exclusive maritime economic zone wherein Chinese ships allegedly rammed and used water cannon against Vietnamese patrol vessels.
A Code of Conduct in South China Sea is also seen to be tackled during the two-day meeting in Myanmar’s capital of Nay Pyi Taw. Last year, China and ASEAN launched the official consultation on the implementation of the 20012 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.