‘Asean can’t re­solve sea claims’



THE As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (Asean) is not the venue to re­solve sovereignty claims over the South China Sea, the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the 10-na­tion bloc has re­it­er­ated.

Asean how­ever is the venue to reg­u­late the con­duct of all par­ties in the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute, Asean Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Le Luong Minh told The Manila Times.

“We have to be able to sep­a­rate, to ex­pect these sovereignty claims. I mean we have only four Asean coun­tries who are claimants –Viet­nam, Philip­pines, Brunei and Malaysia,” Minh said in

an in­ter­view on Sun­day at the side­lines of the 31st Asean Sum­mit be­ing hosted by Manila.

Minh pointed out that the South China Sea is­sue is just one as­pect of the re­la­tions be­tween Asean and China, which he said is gov­erned by the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea, signed by the 10 Asean mem­bers and China in 2002.

“That gov­erns not only Asean be­hav­ior in South China Sea,” the Viet­namese diplo­mat said.

There is no Asean po­si­tion on the sovereignty claims, Minh pointed out.

coun­tries to have a po­si­tion with re­gards to the sovereignty claims of the claimants,” he said.

“But the other as­pect is when Asean has a com­mon po­si­tion for the main­te­nance of peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion. And this - ment] signed in 2002,” he added.

Minh nev­er­the­less ac­knowl­edged the need for a new code of con­duct in the dis­puted wa­ters given re­cent “in­ci­dents.”

This will “pre­vent and man­age the in­ci­dents that have been taken place over the re­cent years that has eroded the trust and con­fi­dence among the par­ties,” he said.

Manila at­tempted to re­solve its claim in 2013 when the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino 3rd haled Bei­jing to a UN-backed ar­bi­tra­tion tri­bunal in The Hague, which ruled in fa­vor of the Philip­pines in July 2016.

On Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who has adopted a con­cil­ia­tory stance with Bei­jing, said he could not en­force the ar­bi­tral - og­nize it.

China con­tin­ues to build struc­tures in the dis­puted wa­ters, for in­stance airstrips on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mis­chief Reefs. Asean an­nounced the start of ne­go­ti­a­tions with China for the new code of con­duct on Mon­day, af­ter a sum­mit with Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang.

For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Robe­spierre Bo­li­var said ne­go­ti­a­tions would likely take place in 2018, and would be based on a frame­work adopted dur­ing the Asean Manila last Au­gust.

A draft Asean- China sum­mit state­ment said lead­ers em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of co­op­er­a­tion in main­tain­ing peace, sta­bil­ity and free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in and over­flight over the dis­puted wa­ters, in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law, in­clud­ing the 1982 United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea.

The lead­ers also re­it­er­ated their com­mit­ment to fully and ef­fec­tively im­ple­ment the 2002 dec­la­ra­tion, which would ba­si­cally pre­vent all claimant coun­tries from oc­cu­py­ing any new fea­ture in the con­tested wa­ters.

Harry Roque, told re­porters Asean wanted pre­dictabil­ity in the South China Sea, which Manila calls West Philip­pine Sea.

“It (Asean) just wants to avoid mis­taken re­sponses to ac­tions, achieve pre­dictabil­ity by adopt­ing a code of con­duct,” Roque said in a news con­fer­ence when asked if Asean had ex­pressed South China Sea.

China has as­sured Duterte that it would not go to war over the South China Sea dis­pute, Roque said.

“Dur­ing their bi­lat­eral meet­ing [two days ago in Viet­nam], [Chi­nese] Pres­i­dent Xi [Jin­ping] as­sured us that they are not ready to go to war with any­one,” Roque said.

“They (China) are not go­ing to use mil­i­tary forces to block free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the South China Sea,” he added.

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