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Beware of China deception, Del Rosario tells Asean

/ 04:32 PM August 26, 2021

MANILA, Philippines—China is bent on undermining the 2016 arbitral ruling that declared some of its South China Sea claims to be baseless by messing with the regional code of conduct which the Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) should prevent, former top diplomat Albert del Rosario said on Thursday (Aug. 26).

“China has seen the utility of the code of conduct together with its precursor, the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, not only as a means to legitimize its illegal nine-dash line claim, but also to undermine the 2016 ruling,” the former foreign secretary said at the inaugural Ambassador Rodolfo Severino Jr. Lecture hosted by the Ateneo de Manila University and the Carlos P Romulo Foundation for Peace and Development.

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“This explains the sudden shift in China’s attitude with regard to the code of conduct as shown by its eagerness to conclude it,” he added.

Del Rosario said recent statements made by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi showed the Chinese strategy. Wang had called on all claimants and the Asean to adhere to what he said were “Four Respects” on the South China Sea conflict.

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Del Rosario said this statement by Yi was “very telling in terms of China’s intention to preserve its illegal claim in the South China Sea within the framework of the code of conduct.”

Yi, in his remarks at the 11th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ meeting early this month, asserted that historical facts must be respected—China was first to have discovered, named, and explored the South China Sea.

He also said that China has sovereignty over the South China Sea, and Chinese laws must be respected. In addition, Yi said the early conclusion of the code of conduct was also a new goal set by China and Asean and consensus should be respected.

Yi said China and Asean have made the situation in South China Sea stable and without problems on freedom of navigation and overflight. Yi said there was a need to respect the region’s countries as “some countries outside the region desired to stir up trouble” and openly sowed discord. Yi did not name the countries, but he was apparently referring to the United States.

Disrespecting “Four Respects”

Del Rosario warned that China’s Four Respects policy was meant to advance China’s illegal claims through the fictitious nine-dash line, as well as its dubious claims of historic rights in the South China Sea.

He also warned against efforts to undermine the 2016 ruling of the UNCLOS tribunal through the code of conduct under the false pretext that the ruling did not have China’s consent while the code of conduct had the consent of all parties.

Last, Del Rosario said China intends to eliminate the global commons in the South China Sea by excluding other countries in the South China Sea such as the United States.

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China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but the arbitral tribunal in The Hague rejected this claim in 2016, following a case filed by the Philippines in 2013. Del Rosario was the Philippine foreign secretary at that time.

Beijing, however, never acknowledged the ruling and continued to claim nearly the entire South China Sea, through its artificial island building, incursions, and bullying of its smaller neighbors like the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in 2016, set aside the ruling in hopes for economic favors from China, which barely materialized five years later.

Asean and China have been working on the code of conduct but negotiations are still ongoing, albeit at a slow pace.

Del Rosario said the Philippines and Asean should be vigilant against any effort by China to undermine the 2016 ruling and should not allow itself to be a “rubber stamp of China’s expansionist ambitions.”

“Asean must stand its ground to uphold the rule of law, and the rule of law is expressed in the 2016 ruling of the UNCLOS tribunal,” he said.

The Asean, he said, can prevent the misuse of the code of conduct by ensuring that it does not contain any language or provision that would undermine the ruling.

The Asean must also embody the 2016 ruling in the code of conduct.

“The ruling already clarifies the maritime rights and entitlements of the countries surrounding the South China Sea,” Del Rosario said, which was not the case in the 2002 Declaration of Conduct, leading China to exploit the lack of clarity back then.

The code of conduct should also implement the ruling, the former top diplomat said. “The path towards a solution in the South China Sea dispute must begin by upholding the rule of law, as expressed in the 2016 ruling.”

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TAGS: Albert del Rosario, arbitral ruling, Asean, China, Code of Conduct, South China sea
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