Asean claimants’ united voice will make China listen – Lorenzana
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana believes that the united voice of five Southeast Asian claimants in the South China Sea will be strong enough to make China listen.
“The problem with Asean is that we are not solid in our statement against China,” Lorenzana said in an interview aired on Christmas Eve on ABS-CBN News Channel.
China, he said, has insisted that its expansive, historical claim to areas in the South China Sea cannot be superseded by any international agreement, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“Even if we … show them our arbitral ruling document, that they have no business there [in areas in the South China Sea that are part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, or EEZ], they will not honor it,” he said.
Lorenzana said that when he spoke with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua and reiterated that Beijing was a signatory to the Unclos, Zhao “said Unclos does not override our historical claim.”
Under Unclos, the Philippines’ EEZ extends 371 kilometers to the South China Sea—an area the country calls the West Philippine Sea.
China marks its claim to the disputed sea with a nine-dash line on maps, which the arbitral tribunal invalidated in its July 12, 2016, ruling.
Lorenzana said it was imperative that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) came up with a solid statement of unity on their respective territorial claims in the disputed sea.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had previously pushed for an Asean statement against China’s building activities in the South China Sea.
But Lorenzana said “two countries always resisted” Del Rosario’s overtures. He did not name the two Asean countries.
“There are five claimants from Asean: Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. If these five countries will have one voice, I think it will be strong enough,” the defense chief said.
Former Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, signed an agreement last year on a status quo in the South China Sea.
The agreement prohibits the construction of new structures and only allows improvement of facilities, Lorenzana said.
“Nobody’s occupying new features. We have nine islands occupied by our troops, so we are there improving [existing facilities only] on the islands,” Lorenzana said.
The nine Philippine-occupied features in the South China Sea include Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, Parola (Northeast Cay) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Patag (Flat) Island, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, Rizal (Commodore) Reef, Lawak (Nanshan) Island and Panata (Lankiam) Island.