Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. on Wednesday said the Philippines will push for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as the government takes on the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this year.
“The Philippines will pick up where the Laos chairmanship of Asean left off,” he said in a press briefing.
“We are referring to the joint commitment of Asean and China to fast-track discussions on the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or DOC, even as we complete a framework on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or COC by mid-2017,” he said.
“During our chairman of Asean, we will intensify efforts for the completion of a framework of the COC during the first half of the year,” Yasay said.
This year’s Asean Summit will be held in the Philippines.
The DOC, agreed upon by the Asean member-states and China in 2002, was supposed to pave the way for a COC, which will help manage tensions in disputed areas in South China Sea. However, more than a decade has passed and the parties have yet to settle on the completion of the COC.
Yasay said representatives of the parties are already discussing the framework for the COC.
“We might term it as a framework for now. At the end of the day it can be an entire code of conduct,” he said.
Yasay admitted that it took a while for the revival of talks and he could not ensure the approval of a COC or its framework by mid-2017. He said he remains positive and hopeful.
President Rodrigo Duterte has been on “friendly” relations with China amid the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines in its petition questioning China’s controversial “nine-dash line” claim in South China Sea.
However, the secretary said the government will not raise the issue of the arbitral ruling during talks with other Asean nations and China.
“It is my understanding that it might not be a good idea to include the arbitral tribunal position (in the COC),” he said.
“It is my understanding that it might not be a good idea to include in the Code of Conduct any reference on the arbitral tribunal position. That is something that is presently disputed between the Philippines and China,” he said.
Nevertheless, Yasay said the Asean will “very clearly” not allow the continuation of reclamation and militarization in the disputed areas of South China Sea.
Yasay said the Philippines will also “bring to the table a number of measures that the Duterte administration has successfully initiated.”
“I personally consider the return of our Filipino fishermen to the Scarborough shoal a victory of he rule of law,” he said, as an example.
The secretary said working with China has resulted in both the “return of Filipino fisherman to Scarborough Shoal without the Philippines asking China to let them go back and the de-escalation of tension in the Scarborough Shoal area and the region as a whole.”
Duterte will lead the launch of the Philippine’s chairmanship of the Asean in Davao City on Sunday. RAM