Aquino off to Burma on Saturday for Asean summit
President Benigno Aquino III leaves for Burma (Myanmar) Saturday to attend the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Mr. Aquino and the other Asean leaders will converge at the Burmese capital of Naypyitaw for the summit Saturday and Sunday to try to move the bloc closer to a European Union-style integration, but discussions are expected to be overshadowed by regional concerns over China’s increasingly aggressive tactics in asserting its claims to the South China Sea.
Mr. Aquino leaves for Burma this afternoon in time for the dinner to be hosted by Burmese President U Thein Sein for the Asean leaders.
Asean groups together Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The summit opens Sunday with Mr. Aquino joining all the bloc’s leaders in a full session and later in the leaders’ retreat.
The full session will take up the progress of the implementation of the plan for an Asean Community, the initiative for integration and the master plan for regional connectivity.
As the schedule is tight, President Aquino has no bilateral meetings with other Asean leaders, although the Philippine government is open to such meetings, according to Assistant Foreign Secretary Charles Jose.
Aquino to press for code
Mr. Aquino and the other leaders will also meet with leaders of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, representatives of the Civil Society Organizations and representatives of the Asean Youth.
Mr. Aquino will also press the other Asean leaders to work for the early conclusion of the code of conduct in the South China Sea, Jose said.
Other Asean countries share the Philippines’ “desire” for an early conclusion of the code of conduct, and this has been expressed in previous summits, he added.
Asean has been pushing for a code to replace the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a 2002 nonaggression pact that has failed to stop clashes in the waterway.
China insists the time is not yet ripe for such a code.
The framing of the code could take years, according to experts.
The agenda for the retreat includes discussions of current regional issues expected to be dominated by the worsening disputes of the Philippines and Vietnam with China in the South China Sea.
PH, Vietnam cases
Jose, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the Philippines and Vietnam were expected to be vocal in raising concerns over China’s behavior in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has asked a United Nations arbitral tribunal to nullify China’s claim to resource-rich islands, islets, reefs and shoals in the West Philippine Sea.
Angered by the Philippines’ action, China, which has already seized two reefs in the West Philippine Sea, is harassing vessels resupplying a small Filipino garrison at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the Spratly archipelago.
Claiming nearly the whole South China Sea, China sends fishing boats to the Philippine part of the Spratlys. On Tuesday Philippine maritime police seized a Chinese fishing boat at Hasa-Hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal) in the Spratlys and detained its 11-member crew after finding protected sea turtles on the vessel.
China angrily demanded the release of the boat and the fishermen on Wednesday, but the Philippines said it would bring charges against the poachers for violating the country’s wildlife laws.
Statement of concern
Vietnam on Wednesday accused China of using a water cannon and ramming into eight of its ships in a standoff at the Paracel Islands where China had moved a rig to explore for oil.
Jose said the 10-nation bloc was expected to issue a statement of concern.
“It will be strange if that [statement] will not come out. We can even move forward,” Jose told reporters Wednesday, adding that a stronger statement could be worked out if possible.
“The South China Sea issue will definitely feature prominently in the discussions at the Asean summit. The Philippines has always been pushing for the early conclusion of a code of onduct (in the South China Sea),” Jose said.
At the summit, Mr. Aquino would also apprise other Asean leaders on the Philippines’ filing of a case in the United Nations challenging China’s claim to nearly all of the South China Sea in late March.
“And I can also imagine that there would be a mention in the statement of expression of concern by Asean on the situation in the South China Sea and how the Asean leaders would like the disputes to be resolved in a peaceful manner and in accordance with international law,” Jose said.
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