Without consensus, Asean leaders forego statement on sea row
No leader from any of the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) “strongly pushed” to include in the Chairman’s Statement the reclamation activities and apparent militarization of China in the disputed South China Sea.
“There was no one who has strongly pushed or mentioned anything about land reclamation and militarization,” Zaldy Patron, Executive Director for Asean Affairs said in a Palace briefing on Tuesday.
Patron said the Asean chairman’s statement was also silent on the arbitral court ruling, which invalidated China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea because there was “no consensus” among member-states.
“There is no mention of arbitration because last year, even last year in Vientiane, there was no consensus to have it reflected in any of the Asean statements,” he said.
The foreign affairs official said even Asean states, which have claims to the South China Sea, did not raise the ruling “based on the actual discussion during the Summit and the Plenary.”
The South China Sea dispute involves four claimant Asean members — Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.
Earlier reports said Chinese embassy officials had asked Philippine officials to drop the issue of the arbitral ruling including the massive reclamation and apparent militarization of China in the disputed waters in the final chairman’s statement.
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But Patron denied these reports.
“None that we know of, you know,” he said.
He also addressed concerns that the absence of the arbitral ruling in the final chairman’s statement would weaken the Philippine’s claims over parts of the South China Sea.
“We don’t think so. Arbitral award is there. It’s part of international jurisprudence. It’s part of international law,” he said.
“We can invoke it anytime we want and that’s what the President has said that in the right time, he will make references to it,” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he won’t raise the ruling for now as he tries to mend the strained relationship of the Philippines and China.
Patron said the focus of Asean member-states was for the completion of the framework for the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
“But right now, the focus really is to concluding the negotiations on the framework for the Code of Conduct and it is to everyone’s interest that we all have an effective Code of Conduct,” he said.
He said Asean member-states were optimistic that the framework would be accomplished this year.
“Everyone is optimistic that we are going to have this framework by middle of this year. So there is good progress. We are hoping that by August this year, we can have some positive developments that we can announce publicly,” he said.
“So if you have the arbitration on the other hand and you have the COC on the other hand also, then you have two legal instruments that you can refer to in the future if we want to,” he said. IDL/rga
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