BAKU, AZERBAIJAN—Leaders of Asian political parties have drafted a declaration calling on the US, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to convert the disputed South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) from a “zone of conflict into a zone of peace.”
The political parties, which will meet here starting Thursday under the auspices of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), are calling on parties to the South China Sea territorial dispute to adopt agreements for joint exploration and development of oil and gas reserves, and designation of fishing corridors to avoid confrontations and arrests in high seas.
Former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., founder of ICAPP, explained that the idea of a joint exploration would not “shelve the sovereignty issue” being invoked by the Philippines and other Asean claimant-nations under the principle of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“We are only shelving ‘differences’ over sovereignty,” said De Venecia.
“This is the practical, pragmatic, realistic and equitable solution for the sharing of the fruits of production and designation of fishing corridors,” he added.
Some 70 member-states of ICAPP are meeting here for two days in the capital of Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former USSR colony, which is currently holding the presidency of the UN Security Council (non-permanent seat).
The call echoes the Philippine government’s proposal for the formal drafting of the Code of Conduct (COC) aired by President Aquino in Phnom Penh early this week.
Speaking at the Asean summit on Tuesday, Aquino called on all parties to respect the EEZ of coastal states, “irrespective of their size or naval power,” in conformity with Unclos.
The President 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 EEZ to up to 370 kilometers (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.
A draft “Baku Declaration” of the ICAPP’s 7th General Assembly touches on many issues of interest to Asia and many parts of the world, including the recent tensions between China and the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea.
The draft was prepared by the ICAPP standing committee.
“We also support peace and diplomacy and practical approaches just as joint exploration and development to resolve territorial disputes in parts of Asia, based on international law and the United Nations Charter, without resorting to the threat or the use of force,” the declaration says.
“Political differences on such territorial disputes must not become impediments to normal economic and cultural interaction, based on mutual benefit,” it adds.
The declaration is calling on the region to “revive the faith in the future and build on hope for a better tomorrow for Asia’s teeming millions, so that they may thrive in peace and prosperity in a world without overlords and without underdogs.”
ICAPP, composed of some 336 ruling and opposition political parties from 53 Asian states, is meeting “in the context of rapidly transformed world,” according to its statement.
Deng Xiao Ping’s formula
De Venecia recalled that in previous meetings, ICAPP had endorsed the late Chinese communist leader Deng Xiao Ping’s formula for the claimant-nations in the China Sea “to shelve their differences over sovereignty to make way for joint exploration and development of oil-gas resources.”
The proposed joint exploration “should include equitable profit-sharing of the fruits of production among the claimant nations … and designation of fisheries abroad to avoid dangerous confrontations and arrests in the sea.”
“Eventually, we hope the parties could demilitarize the disputed areas and pull out the armed garrisons, and thus convert a zone of conflict into a zone of peace, friendship, cooperation and development,” said De Venecia, co-chairman of the ICAPP’s standing committee.
He said that ICAPP could broker this proposal, but only upon formal request by parties concerned.
“In all of these disputes, the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (of) ICAPP could maybe lend a helping hand. And certainly, its intercession will be most effective only where it is solicited by the contending parties—where ICAPP and APRC work behind the scenes—and when it seeks no more than to create a speace for dialogue,” said De Venecia.
Creating “space for dialogue” summed up what ICAPP tried to do during the past 12 years since its founding, he said.
Baku ideal choice
According to him, ICAPP has chosen Baku as its venue for the 7th general assembly since it borders the Caspian Sea.
“Baku is a strategic bridge between Asia and Europe on the historic Silk route,” he said.
This oil-rich nation “lies in the heartland of southern Caucasus region from which sprang the white Caucusian race,” he said,
He pointed to the joint exploration for oil in the Caspian Sea by Central Asian countries—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan—Russia and Iran.
“Whereas we haven’t lifted one barrel” from the South China Sea, he noted.
De Venecia described the circuitous route being traversed by oil tankers coming from Asia to pick up crude oil from Saudi Arabia by way of explaining the necessity of obtaining oil from the South China Sea, believed to be holding vast oil and gas reserves.
According to him, the oil tankers from Incheon of South Korea, coastal seaboard of China like Shanghai, Taiwan and the Philippines cross through the South China Sea into the Moluccas Straits (between Malaysia and Indonesia), Andaman Sea and then to the Indian Ocean.
From there, the tankers pass through the Arabian Sea en route to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf before reaching Ras Tanura port to pick up oil from Saudi Arabia’s largest oil harbor.
The tankers can also pick up oil from Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, or Kuwait.
“Right now, we have oil and gas in our frontyard and backyard. So it’s a question of working out a joint exploration. So we should not give up our sovereignty… what we should postpone or shelve is not our sovereignty but the differences of our sovereignty to pave the way for joint exploration and development,” he said.
De Venecia claimed that a joint oil exploration would be “achievable,” pointing to the East Timor agreement with Australia for the joint offshore oil drilling in Darwin in northern Australia.
In an interview, Said Asaf Hajiyev, head of international relations of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, also called for peaceful means to resolve the territorial dispute.
“Border or territorial disputes is a common problem for many countries, but we also all know that diplomatic means, peaceful negotiation is the best way to deal with these (disputes),” said Hajiyev.