FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano does not serve the interest of China in connection with the disputed territories in the South China Sea where the Philippines is among the claimants, a Malacanang spokesman said Thursday.
Ernesto Abella was responding to statements attributed to Cayetano at the conclusion of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) Regional Forum (ARF) hosted by Manila.
Cayetano said that China was being practical in proposing a non-legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.
Cayetano, a lawyer, argued that a legally binding COC would be problematic because Asean and China would have to agree on who would impose the penalties in the event that the signatories violated its provisions.
“To say that he speaks for China is overly interpreting things. As the chair of the Asean, his job is to work on a joint communique, regardless of differences in position,” Abella said.
“The job is to build on our efforts for the November [Asean] summit,” Abella added.
Asean, a regional bloc grouping the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei and Indonesia, is pushing for a legally binding COC on the South China Sea amid China’s repeated incursions and reclamation activities within the disputed areas.
Asean has an existing Declaration of Conduct (DOC) on the South China Sea that was signed in 2002.
The DOC provides that parties should “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
The DOC, however, did not prevent, if not escalated Chinese incursions because it was a non-binding pact.
China’s repeated incursions and aggression against Filipino fisherfolks within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone have prompted Manila to seek the intervention of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013.
The UN Court issued a ruling in favor of the Philippines in July 2016—a landmark decision that dismissed China’s nine-dash line theory, which claims the entire South China Sea, and acknowledged the Philippines’ sovereign rights to use the marine resources within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Specifically, the UN Court declared that Filipino fishermen could enjoy fishing rights at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank were all within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
China has refused to recognize the UN court’s ruling and has been pushing for bilateral talks with claimant states, including the Philippines.