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MANILA, Philippines – Visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Thursday that the Philippines, on the back of the favorable ruling of the United Nations arbitration tribunal, is in a position to lead in the establishment of an “enforceable code of conduct” among ASEAN nations on the South China Sea row.
Countries need to abide by rules-based order that resolves disputes peacefully, Bishop said in a speech at a forum on Change and Uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific – Strategic Challenges and Opportunities for Australia and the Philippines, held in Makati City.
“We believe that ASEAN should strive for an enforceable code of conduct … as soon as possible,” she said.
The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has set recommendations “that can form the basis of the code of conduct,” the Australian diplomat added.
The international body ruled in favor of the Philippines, which had sought a delineation of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, where it said China had violated its rights under a UN treaty that both Asian countries had signed.
In a separate interview, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said that, as this year’s chair of the ASEAN, the Philippines has “a great opportunity to influence the agenda.”
“What we ought to be doing is to have a framework, but I believe the framework does not include the arbitral tribunal outcome … and the results of the outcome is now part of the international law and it should be included and we should work towards that,” he said.
Asked about the sighting of Chinese vessels in the vicinity of Benham Rise, an underwater sea mass east of Luzon mainland, Del Rosario said the Philippine government should seek explanation from China about its vessels’ foray in the area.
He said that in 2012, Benham Rise was declared part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, which means that the country “has the sole and exclusive right to explore and exploit” the oil and mineral resources in the area.
“What we need to do is determine the justifications for the presence of the Chinese vessel there, which happened to linger over a period of months in our continental shelf and to determine the reason for their presence there,” Del Rosario said.
“We need to make sure that our sovereign rights are not being violated,” he added.