DFA: No Asean leader mentioned sea dispute
There was no mention of China’s island building in the South China Sea in the ending statement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit because no leader insisted on the matter, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday.
Zaldy Patron, executive director of the DFA’s Office of the Asean Affairs, also said China had nothing to do with the statement which was free of any reference to its land reclamation and militarization activities in the disputed waters.
“We want to reflect as much as possible the discussion [of the leaders] as accurately as possible and there was no one who strongly pushed or mentioned anything about land reclamation and militarization,” Patron said in a media briefing at Malacañang.
“On the other hand, the leaders highlighted the improving relations between Asean and China and the need to conclude the framework for the code of conduct,” he said.
Patron pointed out that even during last year’s summit in Laos, there was no consensus to mention China’s activities in the South China Sea in Asean statements.
Analysts said the absence of any reference to China’s island building in the South China Sea in the summit’s ending statement was a victory for China.
President Duterte himself has been cultivating stronger ties with China and Beijing responded with economic deals for the Philippines. Mr. Duterte had also decided to defer bringing up the arbitral ruling with Beijing.
But Patron said Asean leaders decided by themselves what issues should be pushed and not pushed during the summit.
“As far as we know, the leaders of the Asean exercised their independence … We don’t see any any factor coming from any dialogue partner,” he said.
He also said the omission of the arbitral ruling in the statement was not a lost opportunity for the Philippines because the award is already part of international jurisprudence and could be invoked at any time.
“That’s what the President has said: that in the right time, he will make references to it. But right now, the focus really is to conclude negotiations for the framework of the code of conduct. It is in everyone’s interest we all have an effective code of conduct,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella also called for understanding of the President’s approach to China, amid observations that the Asean under his chairmanship had gone soft on Beijing.
“First, we need to appreciate the tack of the President. At this stage, he finds that the more reasonable tack is to approach it diplomatically without losing any of our entitlements, without losing any of our rights and without losing any of our authority over certain properties that we consider ours,” Abella said.
He said the Philippines was in constant dialogue with the other party and Mr. Duterte himself had said he would bring up the arbitral tribunal ruling once China begins appropriating for itself the resources of the area.
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