Aquino urges China: Reexamine your efforts
TOKYO—President Aquino on Wednesday called on China “to reexamine all efforts” in asserting its claims to the South China Sea as he underscored the need for the stabilizing presence of US forces in the Asia-Pacific region amid the growing Chinese military buildup in disputed waters.
Taking questions at an open forum following his keynote at Nikkei’s 21st Conference on the Future of Asia, Aquino cited the need for stability to ensure economic development in the region and reminded China of its “responsibility” as a member of the international community.
Several countries have expressed concern over China’s aggressive efforts to create islands out of otherwise uninhabitable rock formations in the South China Sea, as it continues to reiterate its “indisputable” sovereignty over a vast expanse of waters.
Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of the South China Sea.
“When America and Japan both talked about their concerns, and this voice is also seconded by the European Union and various other countries that have expressed concern about the reclamation efforts, that reminds China, I believe, of its responsibility as a member of the community of nations to adhere to international law,” Aquino said.
He noted that China had been in violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea for its continuing efforts to build up its presence in the disputed waters, encroaching into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Philippines has a pending arbitration case in the United Nations to compel China to back off the country’s EEZ within the disputed waters. China has refused to take part in the proceedings.
“This reclamation effort seems to go against both the letter of this agreement entered into, as well as the spirit of the law. So, perhaps, we again… We reiterate, we ask China: ‘Is this a necessary step?’” Aquino said.
“And if stability is a necessary prerequisite to prosperity for all, and if prosperity for all our peoples is the be-all and end-all of any government, then perhaps they should reexamine all of these efforts and see whether or not this is necessary given the increasing tensions that are happening because of these activities,” he said.
At an international defense conference last week in Singapore, US officials said China’s expanding reclamation work could be for military use.
The President made the statement on the heels of US President Barack Obama’s comments in Washington on the South China Sea issue. Obama warned that claims asserted by sheer size instead of the law would lead to a “less prosperous” Asia-Pacific region.
The United States, currently pursuing a strategic pivot in the Asia-Pacific region, has condemned China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, saying that it could constrict freedom of navigation.
Aquino echoed Obama’s sentiment in his speech, saying: “Peace and security are the foundations of all progress; they are the pillars on which all forms of prosperity are built and sustained. After all, in the long history of the human race, is there even one example of a nation that has developed—and consequently, paved clear paths for its people to live dignified lives—despite being enveloped by conflict?”
Japan is also facing a maritime dispute with China over the East China Sea. It earlier expressed support for the Philippines’ peaceful efforts to try and solve its own sea row with one of the world’s biggest military powers.
US bases in Okinawa
Asked to comment on the sentiments of the people of Okinawa over the continued stay of US bases in their area, Aquino cited the “necessity” for American military presence in the region.
The Philippines kicked US bases out of the country in 1992 through a Senate vote, but last year agreed to allow increased American military presence through the Philippine-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
“With all due respect, I think we can identify with the sentiments of the people in Okinawa with regards to hosting the bases. But having said that, there is also the need for their presence and unfortunately, in our Constitution we are no longer allowed to have foreign bases or foreign military bases in our country,” Aquino said.
But he said the Philippines was keen to contribute to regional security, particularly through agreements such as Edca.
“We’d like to do our part. There’s an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. Once everything has been ironed out—there’s a challenge before our Supreme Court with regards to this agreement—then perhaps we can also pull our weight and do our share toward enhancing security and stability within the region,” he added.
Aquino said the Philippines also viewed with optimism Japan’s rethinking of its pacifist policy, adopted after World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is known to be at the lead of pursuing the rearming of Japan amid growing security threats.
“…[W]e do not view with alarm this review of the collective defense that is being espoused, but rather we see it as an opportunity whereby Japan—a very significant and influential player in the world—will be able to completely, shall we say, fulfill its role in direct relation to its standing as a world economic power, and one that has very significant influence throughout the world,” he said.
“Again, we do not see it as a cause of alarm, but rather an opportunity that they can fulfill their rightful functions in our attempts, especially at peacekeeping throughout the world,” added the President.
As part of its efforts to beef up Philippine defense capabilities, Japan is expected to sign an agreement for the turnover of 10 patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard. Japan eased its self-imposed ban on military exports last year.
Earlier Wednesday, the Japanese imperial family welcomed President Aquino at the Imperial Palace, according the Philippine leader with Japan’s highest honor.
In subdued rites at the Shunju-no-ma, the Grand Hall of the Imperial Palace, Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko led the royal welcome for Aquino, introducing him to a roster of more than 40 VIPs, including Prime Minister Abe.
The five-minute welcome rites were moved indoors instead of the Palace grounds due to light rain over the city throughout Wednesday.
The honors were followed by a state call, with the emperor and the President exchanging expressions of gratitude. The emperor thanked Aquino for accepting the invitation to undertake a state visit to Japan, while the President thanked the emperor for all of Japan’s help to the Philippines, especially in times of disaster.
During the meeting, Akihito bestowed on Aquino Japan’s highest honor, the Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.
The award was previously accorded to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and members of Britian’s royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Prince William.
In return, the President bestowed the Order of Lakandula Grand Collar (Supremo) on the emperor for his contributions to bolstering ties between Japan and the Philippines.
Originally posted as of 12:14 PM | Wednesday, June 3, 2015
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