SINGAPORE—China’s continued reclamation in the South China Sea has eroded trust among claimants and could raise regional tensions, Southeast Asian foreign ministers said Tuesday.
The ministers from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations did not mention China by name in their statement after a one-day meeting in Singapore, current chair of the grouping.
Beijing claims nearly all of the waterway and has been turning reefs and islets into islands and installing military facilities and equipment on them.
Asean members Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as Taiwan also have partial claims in the waterway.
Ministers “took note of the concerns expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region,” said Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in the statement.
China had in December defended its construction on disputed islands as “normal” after a US think tank released new satellite images showing the deployment of radar and other equipment.
Following a meeting with Asean last year, China agreed to begin talks on a much-delayed code of conduct for the sea, which Balakrishnan warned would be a “complicated negotiation”.
“Territorial claims will not be resolved just because you have a [code of conduct],” he said.
“Second, there will be no shortage of very sensitive issues that will take a lot of innovation and imagination on the part of the diplomats, and ultimately an exercise of political will,” he told a press briefing.
He added that ministers were briefed on the humanitarian situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state but kept silent over accusations of ethnic cleansing by the army, instead pledging to support Yangon’s humanitarian relief efforts.
Myanmar is an Asean member.
Singapore is looking to push an agenda heavy on cybersecurity and innovation in a grouping which has tended to focus much of its endeavours on regional diplomacy and economic growth.
Asean defense ministers also held a meeting in the city-state Tuesday, including a special session with Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.
Criticized by Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for doing nothing about China’s military buildup in areas of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines, the Palace said President Rodrigo Duterte does not kowtow to any country.
“The President is accountable to the Filipino people. He is adopting a policy that he thinks is best to serve the Filipino interest. He may have a different perception of what is best for the Philippine interest,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
He then challenged Carpio to leave the judiciary and run for president.
Carpio earlier hit the administration’s “policy of appeasement” and said if it did not file a diplomatic protest, its silence could be seen as a waiver or abandonment of the country’s sovereign rights.
Liberal Party president Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, said they were deeply troubled at the nonchalant attitude taken by the government towards China’s militarization in the South China Sea.
“We, the people, demand that the government, at the very least, not stand idly by,” said Pangilinan.
Pangilinan said the government should protest blatant violations of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and beef up the country’s defenses in guarding what’s left of the Philippines’ territory,
Pangilinan said it was the government’s sacred duty to protect its territory on behalf of its people.
The opposition senator also said it was disturbing to hear the presidential spokesman take Chinese assurances without question and use this to suggest Filipinos can sleep soundly at night.
“It’s like telling Filipinos not to worry because while China constructed a building, it would only stay on the ground floor. Since 2013, China has engaged in unprecedented and ecologically devastating dredging and island-building at all seven of the features it occupies in the Spratly Island, creating nearly 1,300 hectares of land. How can we trust it to stop its aggression this time? Due to the initiative of the last administration, the Philippines has secured an arbitral ruling favorable to us,” Pangilinan said.
“Let’s not make this a mere paper victory by giving China an easy ride through the current administration,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV welcomed President Duterte’s order a stop to the maritime scientific exploration by foreigners on Benham Rise, but insisted that the government should come up with a sound plan for exploring the 13-million-hectare underwater plateau.
“The President’s pronouncement is a welcome development. Now we must determine our policy and plans for Benham Rise,” Aquino said.
Aquino also expressed hopes that the President will strictly and consistently enforce his order. with Macon Ramos-Araneta
The Manila Standard
posted February 07, 2018 at 12:01 am byAFP