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Asean backs Philippines’ proposal on Spratlys

03:56 AM July 30, 2011

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have expressed support for the Philippines’ proposal to transform the West Philippine Sea (also known as South China Sea) from a zone of dispute into a “zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“We have been receiving a lot of support from Asean foreign ministers and this could be shown in their welcoming of our proposal,” said Raul Hernandez, the new DFA spokesperson told reporters Friday.

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“They have expressed support to our proposal and for a multi-lateral approach to resolving the issue. The foreign ministers have voiced their support to the resolution of the dispute in the West Philippine Sea… mainly for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in the [region],” he said.

Hernandez also said that the proposal would be studied by Asean maritime legal experts scheduled to meet in September in Manila.

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“We will let them discuss it, assess it and hopefully they will be able to support it. And with their support, we could present it to the SOM (Senior Officials Meeting) and after that to the Asean Foreign Ministers meeting,” he said.

He said the aim was to eventually get the 10 Asean nations, and later on China, to endorse the proposal to delineate the disputed sections of the strategically located and reputedly resources-rich area.

“If we can define those disputed features then we can have the joint development of those areas,” Hernandez said.

Areas not in dispute should be the exclusive preserve of the country that owned them, Hernandez said.

Competing claims to the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups in the West Philippine Sea have caused rising tensions in recent months, with regional neighbors accusing China of behaving aggressively.

These areas, which straddle vital commercial shipping lanes, are subject to a tangle of maritime claims by China, Taiwan, and Asean members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

However China maintains it owns all of the South China Sea, even waters approaching the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.

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Asean, which also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, agreed with China at a ministerial meeting last week to a set of guidelines setting a framework for an eventual code of conduct for the sea.

But China has consistently rejected efforts for the disputes to be resolved in a multilateral setting.

It prefers bilateral negotiations, which other countries fear is a divide-and-conquer approach that would weaken their bargaining capabilities with the Asian superpower.

Last month, Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario met with Asean diplomats, whom he asked to “take a common position and, as a family of nations, together seek common approaches in addressing challenges,” including those in the West Philippine Sea.  With Tina G. Santos and AFP

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TAGS: ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Foreign affairs, International relations, Maritime Dispute, South China Sea, Spratlys, West Philippine Sea
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