Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

ASEAN Gives Beijing a Pass on South China Sea Dispute, Cites ‘Improving Cooperation’

April 30, 2017

MANILA — Southeast Asian countries took a softer stance on South China Sea disputes during a weekend summit, according to a statement issued on Sunday, which went easy on China by avoiding tacit references to its building and arming of its manmade islands.

A chairman’s statement of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was released about 12 hours after the summit ended, and dropped references to “land reclamation and militarization” included in the text issued at last year’s meeting, and in an earlier, unpublished version seen by Reuters on Saturday.

The outcome follows what two ASEAN diplomats on Saturday said were efforts by Chinese foreign ministry and embassy officials to pressure ASEAN chair the Philippines to keep Beijing’s contentious activities in the strategic waterway off ASEAN’s official agenda.

It also indicates four ASEAN members who the diplomats said had wanted a firmer position had agreed to the statement’s more conciliatory tone.

China is not a member of the 10-member bloc and did not attend the summit but is extremely sensitive about the content of its statements. It has often been accused of trying to influence the drafts to muzzle what it sees as dissent and challenges to its sweeping sovereignty claim.

China’s embassy in Manila could not be reached and its foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment on Saturday.

The statement also noted “the improving cooperation between ASEAN and China”, and did not include references to “tensions” or “escalation of activities” seen in earlier drafts and in last year’s text. It noted, without elaborating, some leaders’ concerns about “recent developments” in the strategic, resource-rich waterway

A Philippine diplomat said it was an open secret that China tries to lean on ASEAN members to protect its interests, but that was not the reason for the unusual delay in issuing the statement.

“There are one or two member countries which lobbied for some changes in some text in the statement, but not related to the South China Sea,” the source said.

Beijing has reacted angrily to individual members expressing their concern about its rapid reclamation of reefs in the Spratlys and its installation of missile systems on them.

Another ASEAN diplomat said the statement was a genuine representation of the atmosphere of the Manila meetings.

“We respected the Philippines’ views and cooperated,” the diplomat said. “It clearly reflected how the issue was discussed.”

The softened statement comes as the current ASEAN chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, seeks to bury the hatchet with China after years of wrangling over its maritime assertiveness. After lobbying from Duterte, China agreed to let Filipinos back to the rich fishing ground of the Scarborough Shoal following a four-year blockade.

The no-nonsense leader set the tone for the meeting on Thursday when he said it was pointless discussing China’s maritime activities, because no one dared to pressure Beijing anyway.

As a sign of Duterte’s friendship with Beijing, three Chinese navy vessels on Sunday made a rare visit to the Philippines. Duterte will inspect a guided-missile destroyer in his hometown of Davao on Monday.

Duterte’s foreign policy strategy is a stunning reversal of that of the previous administration, which had close ties with the United States and was seen by China as a nuisance.

That Philippines government in 2013 challenged Beijing by lodging a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013.

Two weeks into Duterte’s presidency last year, the Hague court ruled in favor of the Philippines, angering China. But Duterte has made it clear he would not press Beijing to comply anytime soon, and is more interested in doing business than sparring.

The final chairman’s statement issued made no mention to the arbitration case. However, it did include in a section separate to the South China Sea chapter the need to show “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes” in resolving disputes.

Underlining Beijing’s sensitivity about the arbitration award, the two diplomatic sources on Saturday said Chinese embassy officials had lobbied behind the scenes for that sentence to be dropped, and considered it a veiled reference to the ruling.

One diplomat indicated that ongoing moves between China and ASEAN to draft a framework for negotiating a maritime code of conduct may have been a factor in agreeing the softened statement.

All sides want to complete the framework this year, although there is some scepticism that China’s would agree to a set of rules that could impact its geostrategic interests.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Lincoln Feast)


EDITORIAL – Sea of peace

China became the world’s second largest economy while Southeast Asia prospered and became one of the most dynamic regions during several decades of peace. This highlights the importance not only of maintaining peace but also of enhancing friendly relations in Asia.

The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint for disrupting that peace. This gives urgency to finalizing a code of conduct that will be binding on the parties concerned. For several years now, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been hammering out a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea that is acceptable to the regional bloc as well as the non-ASEAN claimants to the disputed waters, China and Taiwan.

A ruling handed down last year by the United Nations-backed Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague, which invalidated Beijing’s so-called nine-dash-line claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, cannot be ignored in any code of conduct. The court ruling, which also defined the Philippines’ maritime entitlements within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, was based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both the country and China have ratified.

Any code of conduct in Southeast Asian waters must abide by international rules if the 10-member bloc wants to become a “global ASEAN” as envisioned in its move toward regional economic integration. The arbitral court ruling, however, inevitably complicates ASEAN negotiations with China on the code of conduct.

The negotiations are expected to continue as the Philippines chairs the grouping during its 50thanniversary this year. Forging a sea code that concerned parties will accept and, more importantly, implement poses a challenge particularly to the holder of the rotating ASEAN chair.

In persuading all the parties to finalize a sea code, the Philippines can invoke the most persuasive argument, which is to ensure peace. The region has prospered and benefited immeasurably from the dividends of peace. Approving a code of conduct in contested waters can only enhance that peace and guarantee even greater prosperity for all.

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United Nations-backed Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague said China’s nine dash line was not recognized in international law


Vietnam Will Lose The Most From A Code Of Conduct In The South China Sea

April 29, 2017

By Ralph Jennings , CONTRIBUTOR

Leaders from 10 Southeast Asian countries are talking this week, possibly about peaceful use of the heavily disputed South China Sea. Four have claims to the resource-rich tract of water and China says nearly the whole 3.5 million-square-km body of water belongs under its flag instead. Discussion about the South China Sea now and throughout the year among the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) leaders may spawn a framework code of conduct by June, to be refined later in the year or from 2018. The code of conduct – broadly a set of rules aimed at heading off mishaps in disputed waters – has eluded Asia since parties signed an initial Declaration of Conduct in 2002 to kick off negotiations a full-on code.

Once the deal happens, Vietnam will be the biggest loser.

The ASEAN member with an extra hefty South China Sea claim will want a code of conduct or whatever it is to cover the Paracel Islands. But China has controlled those 130 features southwest of Hong Kong since a brief battle in 1974 with what was then South Vietnam. Modern Vietnam still claims what it lost.

An activist shouts anti-China slogans during a rally marking the 42nd anniversary of the 1974 naval battle between China and then-South Vietnamese troops over the Paracel Islands, in Hanoi on January 19, 2017. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

But China is unlikely to let Vietnam or anyone else pass ships near the Paracels for any reason without incident, meaning it would oppose any regional code of conduct that implies another country can access its reefs, atolls and surrounding tropical waters. China has already held up the code for the past six years over fears it would compromise Chinese control over the sea.

Vietnam and three other Southeast Asian countries have stakes in another South China Sea archipelago, the Spratly Islands, which they effectively share with China. They’re all looking for gas or oil under the sea, which is otherwise coveted mainly for fisheries. If China doesn’t want a safe driving agreement in the Spratly chain, it’s as much at risk of mishap as any other player.

“No one can force China out of the Paracels,” says Carl Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at The University of New South Wales in Australia. “The most you could hope for is if Vietnam took arbitral action,” such as a petition with the world court in The Hague, he adds.

Vietnam happens to be trying to get along better with China on its own despite centuries of land and sea disputes. Anti-Chinese sentiment still runs high among Vietnamese people, but the government in Hanoi is talking with Beijing outside the ASEAN context about the maritime issue while enjoying economic benefits such as cheap imports and a flood of Chinese tourists. China may eventually face pressure from the U.S. government over its past decade of maritime expansion, including artificial islands ready for combat aircraft and radar systems. For now it can pacify otherwise restive Southeast Asian claimants one-on-one by offering aid and investment. The other claimants are Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Vietnam’s ASEAN colleagues, which are meeting for four days in the Philippines through Saturday, probably won’t push China over the Paracels even if Vietnam tries to. ASEAN counts staunchly pro-China Cambodia and Laos among its members. This year’s chair, the Philippines, has set aside its maritime disputes with China, too. ASEAN as a whole usually pursues deals that elevate its unity rather than risking rifts among them or with other countries.

Lack of a Paracels clause in an eventual code of conduct will give China more sway over those islets where it has already built a small city plus military infrastructure.

“I don’t think China will want to have that in the code of conduct, because I think for China the Paracels is a bilateral issue between itself and Vietnam, and I would even go further to say some of the ASEAN states may not want to be part of it because they would see the Paracels as an unnecessary complicating factor,” said Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Manila avoids China talk at Asean — Riot police push back protesters

April 29, 2017

Host country the Philippines resists pressure by some bloc members to address Beijing’s military build-up in the contested South China Sea

By Catherine Wong and Kristin Huang
South China Morning Post

Sunday, April 30, 2017, 12:38am

Duterte: Asean leaders did not discuss sea dispute with China

April 29, 2017
By: – Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
/ 08:52 PM April 29, 2017

Rodrigo Duterte at Asean Summit

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the opening ceremony of Asean leaders’ summit in Manila on April 29, 2017. Duterte faced pushback on April 29 at the regional summit in his efforts to weaken Southeast Asian resistance to Chinese expansionism in disputed areas of South China Sea, diplomats said. (Pool photo by MARK R. CRISTINO via AFP)


Updated: 10:03 p.m., April 29, 2017

President Rodrigo Duterte said the heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) did not discuss the maritime dispute in the South China Sea during their meeting on Saturday.

But Duterte said the possible enacment of a code of conduct in the South China Sea was high on the agenda.

“No terms of referrence but we want code of conduct enacted at the very least before end of this year so that everybody will feel comfortable sailing there because if not then it remains to be flashpoint,” Duterte told reporters in a press briefing at the Phiippine International Convention Center (PICC).

Asked about if the Asean leaders discussed how to address the aggressive reclamation of China in disputed seas, Duterte said the construction activities of China were not on their agenda.

“We never talked about the build-up or something,” he said. “Whenever we talk about a buildup it would be useless.”

He earlier emphasized the need for “the full and effective implementation of the declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea and expressed determination to complete the framework of the Code of Conduct in 2017.”

Duterte has repeatedly said he would not raise the the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling favoring the Philippines’ maritime claims over the West Philippine Sea, saying he preferred to settle the matter with China in a diplomatic way.

“For those who are peace loving – just like me, I don’t want trouble – you have to be very careful,” he said in his press briefing.

In July 2015, the Philippines scored a victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration when it invalidated Beijing’s claim to nearly the whole of the South China Sea.

But Duterte chose a “soft landing” instead of asserting the arbitration ruling. He embarked on a state visit in October 2016 and initiated bilateral talks with China. /atm

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FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

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South China Sea: Philippine President Says ASEAN Wants Agreement on “Code of Conduct” By December 2017

April 29, 2017
This picture taken on April 21, 2017 shows an aerial view of a reef near Thitu island in the disputed Spratly islands. Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana flew to a disputed South China Sea island on April 21, brushing off a challenge by the Chinese military while asserting Manila’s territorial claim to the strategic region. Ted Aljibe/AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants a binding code of conduct for South China Sea claimants by yearend, President Rodrigo Duterte said, even as he admitted that any talk about a military buildup would be “useless.”

“No terms of reference but we want code of conduct enacted at the very least before end of this year so that everybody will feel comfortable sailing there,” Duterte said in a press conference Saturday night at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay.
 “If not, then it (South China Sea) remains to be flashpoint,” he added.
Aside from the South China Sea, a resource-rich area where about $5 trillion worth of goods pass through every year, Duterte said other “flash points” in the world are the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East.
“For those who are peace loving just like me I don’t want trouble. You have to be very careful,” the Philippine leader said.
Duterte believes there is no point discussing China’s supposed military build-up in the South China Sea, noting that the Philippines does not have enough defense capabilities to prevent it.
“Whenever we talk about a buildup, it would be useless. It would be useless except for fighting terrorism,” the president said.
“It’s too late to join the fray. We do not have warheads,” he added.

Long wait for binding code

ASEAN member countries and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002 to resolve conflicting maritime claims peacefully.
More than 14 years have passed since the declaration was forged in Cambodia but the parties have yet to complete a binding code of conduct.
The framework will enumerate the key components of a code of conduct, a document needed to start the discussions among the signatories.
Philippine officials previously expressed hopes that a framework of the code of conduct for South China Sea claimants would be finished during its chairmanship of the ASEAN this year.
China claims historic rights over about 90 percent of the South China Sea but this is being contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
To assert its claims, China rolled out an ambitious land reclamation program in at least seven reefs that are also being claimed by the Philippines namely Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Kennan (Chigua), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Calderon (Cuarteron).
In 2013, the Philippines questioned the legality of China’s maritime claim before an international arbitral tribunal, calling it “exaggerated” and “excessive.”
Last year, a Hague-based arbitral court ruled in favor of the Philippines and voided China’s maritime claim but the Chinese government said it would not recognize the ruling.
Duterte previously said he is ready to temporarily set aside the arbitral decision to forge stronger ties with China. He clarified though that he would never sell out the Philippines’ interests in the South China Sea.
Last Thursday, Duterte said he would not discuss the arbitral court’s ruling on the South China Sea row during the ASEAN meet.
“Code of Conduct, maybe. But arbitral, it’s only between China and the Philippines. So I’ll skip that. But the Code of Conduct at sea is another story,” he said.
The Philippine leader also claimed that those who believe that China could be pressured to halt its activities in the South China Sea are just dreaming.

FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

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South China Sea: Indonesian President’s Vision Includes “Concrete Cooperation” and Building Trust Well Before Any Code of Conduct is Developed

April 29, 2017

Joint projects in maritime research and the fishing industry could be a building block for a code of conduct in the disputed waters, says Indonesian president


29 APR 2017

States involved in the South China Sea dispute should engage in “concrete cooperation” well before any code of conduct is developed, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has proposed.

In an exclusive interview with This Week in Asia ahead of his visit to the Asean summit on Saturday, Widodo said that such cooperation would be an important step towards ensuring peace in the disputed waters.

“In the transitional period before we have the code, the building block of trust is very important. I stress, very important,” he said.

Widodo’s comments indicate that Southeast Asia’s largest nation has no intention of becoming more confrontational over this potentially explosive issue. Asked for his assessment of the president’s remarks, maritime security expert Ian Storey said, “I do not discern a hardening of Indonesia’s position on the South China Sea, which remains consistent.”

Widodo wants Chinese to keep coming – as investors, not workers

Indonesia does not count itself among the states with active, competing claims over various parts of the South China Sea, but the vast archipelago has islands close to the resource-rich waters of the disputed territories.

Other than China, the four other claimant states are part of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean). The grouping has been discussing with China the formulation of a code of conduct since 2010. It arrived at a first draft only last month. A final version mutually agreed upon by all remains months, if not years, away, analysts say.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo touring the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea aboard the Imam Bonjol warship. Photo: Handout

The code covers a binding crisis management mechanism, the prevention of the establishment of offensive weapons and ensuring freedom of navigation, among other matters.

Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, said the code would take time. “Therefore, before any situation erupts, we should undertake a form of concrete cooperation, for example, doing joint research in maritime resources, also working together to improve the maritime infrastructure in the area, and then developing the fishing industry. I believe there are many areas that can be worked upon together.”

Indonesia has these bigger fish to fry than South China Sea

He would not be drawn into commenting on China’s highly controversial policy of building islands in the waters and planting military installations on them. He would only reiterate that trust-building was an important step for all parties to undertake.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion worth of trade passes every year. Its assertion of sovereignty has been contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. While the Philippines took its case to an international tribunal for adjudication, which ruled in its favour, President Rodrigo Duterte has all but abandoned the country’s stance in exchange for economic concessions from China. Duterte recently claimed that he intended to raise the Philippine flag on one of the islands but backed down under Chinese pressure.

The Philippine-claimed Thitu Island in the disputed South China Sea. Photo: AP

Although Indonesia is not a party in the dispute, the waters are a potential source of friction with China.

Maritime expert Storey noted that Indonesia rejected the legal validity of the “nine-dash line”, which China uses to demarcate its territorial claims. The nine-dash line overlaps with the internationally recognised exclusive economic zone around Indonesia’s gas- and oil-rich Natuna Islands.

“In order to [prevent] the issue from becoming a source of tension with Beijing, Indonesia has tried to segregate the problem from the wider South China Sea dispute by characterising the presence of Chinese trawlers in waters adjacent to the Natunas as one of illegal fishing,” said Storey, who is based at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and his wife Iriana arrive in the Natunas to attend a military exercise. Photo: Reuters

Christine Susanna Tjhin, an expert on China-Indonesia relations, agreed. Widodo, she said, had focused on the encroachment by Chinese fishing vessels because it directly affected Indonesian livelihoods and ecosystems. He was less interested in “sabre-rattling” over the issue of Chinese regional hegemony and Indonesian sovereignty, she said.

In bid to defend sovereignty, Indonesia plans to change name of South China Sea to Natuna Sea

This was due not to a fear of upsetting China, but rather a reflection of his policy priorities and pragmatic character, added Tjhin, who is based at Jakarta’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “Jokowi has been focusing mostly on improving the domestic economy, which requires a stable regional environment and amicable and concrete cooperation with countries in the region,” said Tjhin.

Last week, defence magazine Jane’s Weekly reported the Indonesian Ministry of Defence had issued a tender to upgrade a naval pier on Pulau Natuna Besar, the largest of the Natunas. The upgrade would allow the deployment of larger vessels.


Asked why Indonesia felt compelled to upgrade its military capabilities there, Widodo said: “I have to make this clear, [the Natunas are] Indonesian territory. That is clear. We have a regency there. We have a population of 163,000 there. So there is no discussion about Natuna. We want a peaceful situation in the South China Sea.”


FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

No automatic alt text available.

On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

See also:

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Southeast Asian leaders wrestle over China at ASEAN summit — Some nations not comfortable with “total acquiescence” to China

April 29, 2017


(L to R) Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong prepare to pose for a “family photo” at Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit in Manila on April 29, 2017. AFP

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faced pushback on Saturday at a regional summit in his efforts to weaken Southeast Asian resistance to Chinese expansionism in the contested South China Sea, diplomats said.

Duterte was due to release a chairman’s statement at the end of the one-day Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) leaders meeting that ignored an international tribunal ruling rejecting China’s sweeping claims to the strategically vital waterway.

Ahead of the summit Duterte said the Philippines and other nations were helpless to stop Chinese artificial island building in areas they claimed, so there was no point discussing it at diplomatic events such as Saturday’s summit.

“It cannot be an issue anymore. It (Chinese presence) is already there. What would be the purpose also of discussing it if you cannot do anything,” Duterte told reporters on Thursday.

But diplomats said other ASEAN nations, unhappy with intense Chinese lobbying of the Philippines, had sought to toughen up the chairman’s statement and there were hot debates on the issue leading up to Saturday’s summit.

“It can’t be seen that ASEAN has totally given in to Chinese pressure,” a Southeast Asian diplomat in Manila for the event told AFP.

China has been turning reefs and shoals in areas of the sea claimed by the Philippines and other nations into artificial islands, and installing military facilities there.

The United States has criticised the construction work, warning against militarisation in the waterway where $5 trillion in annual trade passes.

ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights over nearly all of it.

The Philippines, under previous president Benigno Aquino, had lobbied hard at ASEAN summits for the bloc to voice its strong opposition to the Chinese expansionism, and official statements at those events often reflected that.

Aquino also filed a case at a UN-backed tribunal asking it to reject China’s claims and artificial island building.

The tribunal last year ruled largely in the Philippines’ favour. But the ruling came after Duterte took power.

– China win –

Duterte steadfastly refused to use the verdict to pressure China, instead pursuing warmer relations and billions of dollars’ worth of trade and aid.

Duterte’s chairman’s statement, which is meant to reflect the views of all ASEAN leaders, will voice concern but not mention the ruling nor China directly, according to excerpts of the latest draft on Saturday obtained by AFP.

China, through its ambassador to Manila, had this week been heavily lobbying Duterte to weaken it further, delegates and diplomats told AFP.

“The lobbying is quite intense. They (China) want it further watered down,” one diplomat told AFP.

China had wanted ASEAN to remove a reference to “respect for legal and diplomatic processes“, and it was taken out of the South China Sea section of the latest draft of the chairman’s statement.

Filipino diplomats said the phrase was important because “legal and diplomatic processes” encompassed the entire process of the filing of the case in the tribunal until its resolution.

Nevertheless, the new draft statement reintroduced a call for no further “land reclamation and militarisation” of the sea.

Diplomats said the reinclusion of the reference to land reclamation and militarisation meant that some ASEAN countries were not comfortable with “total acquiescence” to China.

“This has to be reflected in the statement,” one diplomat, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

The chairman’s statement was due to be released on Saturday afternoon, after the ASEAN leaders finished their meetings and ahead of an informal dinner.

The summit was also being closely watched for how Duterte, who has shocked with curse-laden tirades against the United States and other critics of his deadly drug war, handles hosting his first major diplomatic event.

Duterte’s drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives and led to warnings by rights groups about a possible crime against humanity, has been widely condemned in the West.

But he has enjoyed support from some of his Southeast Asian guests this week, including Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Duterte opens 30th ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in Manila
Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (R) shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) upon her arrival to attend the opening ceremony of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit in Manila on April 29, 2017. AFP/Mohd Rasfan

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday welcomed his fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as they gathered in Manila.

Duterte will preside over the opening ceremony of the 30th ASEAN Summit at the Philippine National Convention Center and the Leaders’ Retreat at the Coconut Palace.

The president, together with his partner Honeylet Avanceña, welcomed Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Vietnam Primie Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The leaders are expected to discuss the implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the way forward, external relations and future directions.

Regional and international issues are also expected to be discussed as the leaders sign the ASEAN declaration on the roles of the civil service.

The leaders will also meet with representatives of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and ASEAN youth.

The 10-member regional bloc was established in Bangkok, Thailand on Aug. 8, 1967 when the five founding members—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—signed the ASEAN declaration.

The ASEAN Summit is the regional bloc’s highest policy-making body.

Philippines completes an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea

April 28, 2017


MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has completed an 18-day scientific survey in the South China Sea to assess the condition of coral reefs and draw a nautical map of disputed area, a top security official said on Thursday.

Two survey ships, including an advanced research vessel acquired from the United States, conducted surveys around Scarborough Shoal and on three islands, including Thitu, in the Spratly group, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said.

“This purely scientific and environmental undertaking was pursued in line with Philippine responsibilities under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea to protect the marine biodiversity and ensure the safety of navigation within the Philippines’ EEZ,” Esperon said in a statement.

He gave no details of the findings from the reef assessments and nautical mapping of the area done from April 7-25.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but it appeared to have allowed the survey. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the strategic waterway.

Other countries in the region were regularly making scientific surveys in the area, said a navy official who declined to be named.

The navy official told Reuters the Philippines also conducts marine survey from time to time, but this was its first major undertaking since 2011, when a Chinese patrol boat harassed a survey ship hired by an Anglo-Filipino company to explore for oil and gas in the Reed Bank.

Esperon said researchers from the environment ministry, the country’s premier university and the navy took part in the expedition.

“This is the first leg of the expedition,” he said, adding the government also plans to conduct research in Benham Rise, part of the Philippines’ continental shelf, in the Pacific Ocean.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Larry King)

Philippines: Duterte Says No Point in Confronting China over South China Sea — What if China treats Filipinos the way Duterte treats drug addicts?

April 27, 2017
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, right, of Brunei and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, chat as they walk for their bilateral meeting following welcoming ceremony for the Sultan Thursday, April 27, 2017 at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines. Bolkiah arrived Wednesday for a state visit and to attend the annual ASEAN Leaders’ Summit which the Philippines is hosting this weekend. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte dismissed the idea that the Philippines can pressure China through international opinion by raising the country’s legal victory on the South China Sea, saying those who want him to do so are dreaming.

Duterte also shrugged off China’s artificial islands within Philippine-claimed waters as a “non-issue” while speaking to reporters at Malacañan two days before the ASEAN leaders’ summit in Manila.

“It cannot be an issue anymore, (the islands) are already there. What would be the purpose of discussing it when we cannot do anything?” Duterte said.

When a reporter suggested that international pressure can mount on China, Duterte said: “(We) cannot do that, you’re just dreaming. Those are theories that you are dreaming (of), that’s really the Obama style. All dreams.”

For the Philippine leader, who is known to be friendly with Beijing and Moscow but hostile to Washington, the United States did not try to stop China when it started reclaiming disputed reefs and shoals in the South China Sea in 2013.

Duterte’s views did not consider that the US has been condemning and challenging China’s military buildup in the key trade route.

ALSO READ: Blatant gaps seen in Duterte’s South China Sea policy

Duterte has insisted that the award should take a back seat as his government resets direct talks with China on the issue, even as the Philippines has earned the nod of a tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that effectively ruled out China’s expansive claims in July last year,

“China has already said, ‘We will not honor (the ruling). So why would you insist that here, here it is,” Duterte said, who then made a slapping sound and let out an expletive. “You’re looking for trouble. Now, are you preparing for trouble? That’s the problem.”

He added that the best way to deal with China is by talking. “That’s the only luxury we have, talking. Action? Tell us how. Tell me. Educate me how.”

Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, opted to file an arbitration case against China after direct negotiations proved to be futile. China has long insisted on joint exploration and development within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Downplaying the award

The president, a former Davao City prosecutor, also appeared to be confused over legal terms used in the landmark ruling that covered the Philippines’ jurisdiction over several shoals and reefs in the Spratlys. While he tried to explain that the award does not rule on “territorial” claims, he erred in saying it also did not have a say on jurisdiction.

“Entitlements lang ang question d’yan sa arbitral, hindi jurisdiction (Only entitlements are questioned in the arbitral award, not jurisdiction). Not even territory. It is outside of our territory, but it is part of our… exclusive economic zone,” Duterte said.

“How will you raise the issue? It’s a non-issue. Why insist on it… no one will listen to you,” he continued.

The UN-backed tribunal’s verdict found that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing activities and mineral exploration and by constructing islands.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the most vocal champions of the Philippines’ claims, warned the government last month against issuing statements and actions that waive the country’s rights in the South China Sea.

“Avoid any act, statement or declaration that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea. This will preserve for future generations of Filipinos their national patrimony in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

Duterte previously promised that he would raise the arbitral award with China at some point during his term as president.


 (Extrajudicial killings)


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FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:



Philippine President Duterte: Pointless To Bring China’s South China Sea Misadventures and Contentious Activities Into ASEAN Summit — Smarter to avoid rows over sovereignty (Ignore the elephant in the room and we’ll all get rich)

April 27, 2017


Pointless To Bring Beijing Adventures At South China Sea In ASEAN Summit, Says Rodrigo Duterte

Rodrigo Duterte in past has been accused of taking softer stand on China. (Reuters)

MANILA:  Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said it was pointless discussing Beijing’s contentious activities in the South China Sea at this week’s summit of Southeast Asian leaders, and no one dared to pressure China anyway.

The no-nonsense former mayor scoffed at questions from reporters about whether China’s rapid reclamation of uninhabited reefs or an international arbitration ruling last year would be brought up with ASEAN leaders on Saturday.

“Who will dare pressure?” he told reporters at the presidential palace after meeting his counterpart from Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. “Who can pressure China? Us?”

The Philippines is hosting meetings of ASEAN this year. The bloc will adopt a softer than usual tone about South China Sea disputes and exclude references to militarisation or island-building, according to a draft of the chairman’s statement.

The statement would be a watered-down version of that issued last year and comes amid a charm offensive by Mr Duterte, who has opted to court China for its business and investment and avoid rows over sovereignty.

Mr Duterte has been accused by members of the previous administration of taking a defeatist position on China and on defending Philippines sovereignty.

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His predecessors in 2013 filed a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to set the record straight on maritime boundaries. The tribunal did that last year, and invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the strategic waterway.

Mr Duterte, who has put the ruling on the back burner and said he will revisit it later in his term, said it was a waste of time for ASEAN to discuss that award now, and it was not relevant.

“Arbitral is simply entitlement. It’s not even a territorial thing. The only question at arbitral was entitlement, not jurisdiction, not even territory,” he said.

“How will you raise the issue? …. We cannot on our own enforce the arbitral judgment.”

(Reporting by Martin Petty and Manolo Serapio Jr, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Peace and Freedom Note: There is a lot of simmering distrust of China. The ASEAN meeting is a good place for all the ASEAN nations to discuss their misgivings. Sovereignty issues and differences over international law never seem to go away no matter how much money changes hands… If China pushes west as the One Belt One Road plan suggests, there weill likely be more differnces over sovereignty and international law. Then what?

Image may contain: text

FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

No automatic alt text available.

On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this: