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MANILA - As China warned Southeast Asian nations against “hyping” the various territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said there has been “a meeting of minds” among the ASEAN senior officials on the proposed main elements of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and ASEAN will soon start negotiations with China on these elements.
Without identifying the elements of the proposed Code, del Rosario would only say that “for archipelagic states like the Philippines, unimpeded commerce and maritime safety are important given that a quarter of the estimated 1.37 million mariners worldwide are Filipinos.”
At the same time, the Philippines’ top diplomat has called for the “effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the “eventual realization of a credible, binding, and enforceable regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.”
ASEAN member-nations and China are signatories to the DOC, a non-binding document that, among others, enjoins the signatories “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
The Declaration also enjoins the parties “to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
In previous press conferences in the Philippines, del Rosario had said the incursions of Chinese ships into Philippine territory constitute a violation of the Declaration.
Speaking at the meeting between ASEAN foreign ministers and the foreign ministers of China, Japan, and Korea in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 10, del Rosario said these goals on the Declaration and the Code are part of the region’s collective goal of enhancing maritime cooperation.
Citing the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Work Plan for 2007 to 2017, he told his international peers that the regional body’s collective goal is to enhance maritime cooperation on safety of navigation primarily through the implementation of relevant treaties and agreements.
‘Most ASEAN nations discussed Scarborough standoff’
Earlier, on July 9 at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, del Rosario said he has impressed upon his fellow ASEAN foreign ministers the need to discuss the situation in Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal to the Philippines).
He told his colleagues that the resolution of the Scarborough standoff between China and the Philippines is important in maintaining peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea (the name by which the Philippines now calls the South China Sea).
Most ASEAN foreign ministers discussed the Scarborough standoff during the meeting, del Rosario said.
The Philippine foreign minister is in Phnom Penh from July 8 to 12 to attend the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, ASEAN Plus Three Ministerial Meeting, Post Ministerial Conferences, East Asia Summit Ministerial Meeting, Southwest Pacific Dialogue and the ASEAN Regional Forum Ministerial Meeting.
ASEAN groups together Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The Scarborough standoff between China and the Philippines started on April 10 when Chinese fishing vessels were seen poaching in the lagoon of the Scarborough Shoal, harvesting endangered marine species like giant clams.
Veronica Uy, InterAksyon.com