PHNOM PENH––In strongly worded remarks, President Aquino on Tuesday called on all parties to respect the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of coastal states, “irrespective of their size or naval power,” and in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Speaking at the 7th East Asia Summit, the penultimate gathering of leaders at the 21st Asean Summit and related Summits here, Mr. Aquino called on all the claimant countries in Asean to “consider coming together to begin discussing the clarification of maritime claims and the resolution of their maritime disputes.”
He said this should be done in accordance with international law, especially Unclos.
The Unclos sets the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to up to 200 nautical miles from the coast in which states have the right to explore and exploit natural resources but allow freedom of navigation and overflight to others.
But this will likely not sit well with China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines has tussled with China over certain isles and reefs in the vicinity of the Spratly chain, as well as over the Scarborough shoal, that fall within the former’s EEZ and conflict with the latter’s nine-dash claim.
The nine-dash claim is China’s delineation of its territory in the South China Sea, with nine dashes on the map that enclose all of the Spratly archipelago, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
“At no time in the contemporary history of the South China Sea has clarification and delimitation of maritime areas become more urgent and imperative than they are now,” Mr. Aquino said.
In his statement, he quoted directly from paragraph five of the 10-year-old Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Under the DOC, the parties shall “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
Mr. Aquino also emphasized that all parties to the proposed code of conduct in the South China Sea, when finalized, must be fully committed to its full implementation.
“As we in Asean embark on negotiating a code of conduct, we must make sure that its provisions are not only stronger, binding, and credible, but that all parties to the COC must be fully committed to its implementation,” he said.