MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is no longer concerned about getting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to issue a unified statement on the South China Sea as the July 12 ruling of an international court invalidating China’s massive maritime claim is enough “legal foundation” to support Manila’s position, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said Monday.
He said convincing fellow ASEAN member-states to take a common stand against China’s aggressive staking of its claim in disputed waters now appears to be a “hopeless” task.
“If you ask the Philippines, we already have the arbitral ruling. We have legal foundation. The Philippines is not concerned with a united ASEAN statement but you have to live up to the founding principles of ASEAN,” Yasay told journalists attending the Japan-ASEAN Media Forum at the Shangri-La EDSA Hotel in Mandaluyong City.
The Philippines is urging China to respect the July 12 ruling since the Asian power is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“As the Constitution dictates, we will seek out bilateral solution. We say this in context of the arbitral ruling,” he added.
The DFA chief emphasized the Philippines remains committed to engaging with friends.
“Even if we move relations with China, it shall not diminish our relations with Japan and the US,” Yasay said.
Early this month, Yasay accused China of using its allies Cambodia and Laos in downplaying Manila’s victory in the arbitral tribunal during the recent ASEAN meeting in Vientiane, Laos.
Yasay said China succeeded in blocking the release of a joint ASEAN statement on the maritime dispute with the help of Cambodia and Laos.
“If there is only one who will object, then no statement can be made,” he said.
Asked what made him say that China was using its ASEAN allies to downplay the Philippines’ legal victory and block the issuance of a unified statement, Yasay said, “Of course it’s discussed in the ASEAN meetings.”
“Even China says that. That’s also international knowledge. They know that China was really campaigning for ASEAN not to get that unified statement,” he stressed.
Position of strength
Meanwhile, presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar said the Philippines is talking to China from a position of strength while taking into account the common interests of the two countries as well as those of their allies.
He said President Duterte is “happy” with the way former president Fidel Ramos is conducting informal talks with the Chinese.
“The former president is negotiating from a strong position which means PCA and we have our allies with us,” Andanar told participants of the Japan-ASEAN Media Forum yesterday. PCA stands for Permanent Court of Arbitration, the UN-backed international tribunal which invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
“It’s not going to be a smooth sail. We have the interests of our allies to protect as well. We have the PCA position. We have to remember that during those times, the allies are behind the Philippines. You cannot just abandon multilateral cooperation,” he added.
Andanar, however, was careful in issuing statements about the territorial row with China, saying they would just follow the lead of Ramos to avoid confusion.
“The President reiterated that we will respect our past contracts, agreement and relationships… We will not go astray from those multilateral agreements. It’s the job now of former president Ramos to make things smoother between China and the Philippines,” he said. “We are still in the initial stage.”
In 2013, the administration of Benigno Aquino III filed a case before an arbitral court based in The Hague to seek a reaffirmation of the country’s maritime entitlements as well as contest Beijing’s excessive territorial claim.
Duterte has expressed readiness to hold bilateral talks with China but stressed the arbitral court’s ruling would serve as basis for formal talks, possibly within the year. – With Alexis Romero
Tags: ASEAN, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, bilateral solution, China, China's "nine-dash line", Duterte, international law, Japan-Asean Media Forum, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Philippines, Quang, security environment, Singapore, South China Sea, UNCLOS, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Vietnam, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, West Philippine Sea, Yasay