MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III is flying to Brunei Wednesday for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, optimistic that the push for talks on the code of conduct in the (West Philippine Sea) South China Sea with China would prosper.
The Asean has reached a consensus to push for an early conclusion of negotiations on a legally binding code of conduct that would govern any conflict over overlapping claims in the international waterway between member-countries and China.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll see progress because of the 22nd summit,’’ one of the President’s spokespersons, Abigail Valte, said at a Malacañang news briefing.
Valte observed that Brunei has updated its priorities in its chairmanship of Asean this year following last year’s Asean consensus that the time was ripe to negotiate a code of conduct on the West Philippine Sea.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei week flew to Manila last week for a brief state visit to discuss the agenda of the summit with Aquino.
The Associated Press reported that a draft statement to be issued after the summit would reaffirm the Asean leaders’ commitment to ensure peaceful resolution of conflicts in the waterway in accordance with international law “without resorting to the threat or use of force.’’
The Asean leaders would call for an “early adoption’’ of the code of conduct with Beijing, which has maintained that the time wasn’t ripe for it, and preferred to negotiate with individual claimants.
The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam of Asean, as well as China and Taiwan have overlapping claims over the West Philippine Sea that over the last few years has become a flashpoint for conflict.
Observers said the tense standoff between Philippines and Chinese vessels at the Scarborough Shoal in April last year underlined the importance of a code of conduct with Beijing.
Aquino is flying Wednesday afternoon for the opening of the summit in Bandar Seri Begawan with three Chinese surveillance ships still in the area, despite earlier agreement by both countries to withdraw.
The continuing intrusion is a violation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the West Philippine Sea, a 2002 non-aggression accord, foreign affairs officials said.
The brief, two-day summit opens with a “working dinner’’ hosted by Bolkiah on Wednesday night. The next day at the Retreat Session, the leaders will exchange views on regional and international issues, and the future of the regional bloc.
Aquino will also join his counterparts in the 9th Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit after the retreat session.
Joining the President are Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras and presidential spokesperson Secretary Edwin Lacierda.
Apart from pushing for the code, the Philippines has challenged China’s claim over most of the West Philippine Sea by filing a notification and statement of claim with the United Nations.