PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has reiterated his call for unity in pursuing peace and stability in the South China Sea, saying that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must “not allow those with diverging interests to make our efforts fail.”
In his remarks during the virtual 38th and 39th Asean Summits and Related Summits, Duterte said the regional bloc should pursue these initiatives in accordance with international law, including the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated China’s expansive claim over the disputed waters.
In 2016, the Philippines won a landmark arbitration ruling that dismissed China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, acknowledging that islands and features in the West Philippine Sea that are being claimed by Beijing fall within Manila’s exclusive economic zone.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and self-governing Taiwan also have their own territorial claims in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway for trade that is also believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.
“We have come a long way in keeping the peace and promoting prosperity in our region. We must not allow those with diverging interests to make our efforts fail,” Duterte said.
The President again reaffirmed the Philippines’ commitment to help finalize an “effective and substantive” Code of Conduct (COC) in the disputed waters.
He also urged countries to translate commitments into action as regards the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.
The DOC, inked on November 4, 2002, aims to exercise self-restraint and promote non-militarization within the South China Sea.
On the other hand, the COC in the South China Sea intends to promote peace and stability in the busy waterway.
“Talks should not remain empty rhetoric. They should be translated into action to fortify the trust and confidence we have cultivated through the years. Acta non verba. Deeds, not words,” Duterte said during his intervention at the 24th Asean-China Summit.
As claimants craft a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the President lauded the Philippines’ contribution to the substantive progress in the second reading of the Single Draft Code of Conduct Negotiating Text.
Noting 2017-2027 as the Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea, he reiterated the Philippines’ call for holistic efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity and the marine environment.
Also during his intervention, Duterte pointed out that a “dynamic” Asean-China cooperation puts both sides in a formidable position to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, address climate change and manage geopolitical issues.
The President expressed his gratitude to China for supporting Asean’s pandemic response, particularly by making life-saving vaccines global public goods.
He also emphasized the need for a phased and comprehensive implementation of the Asean Comprehensive Recovery Framework and called for the immediate establishment of the Aseam Centre on Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
“Asean’s road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be long and difficult as the region reels from the impact of the contagion,” the President said. – Catherine S Valente