MANILA – Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday reaffirmed their countries’ opposition to China’s reclamation work in the South China Sea as they called on other states locked in the territorial law to “behave responsibly” and avoid acts that would further raise tensions in the region.
Del Rosario and Kerry met at the margins of the 48th Association of South East Asian Nations Ministerial Meetings, where top diplomats from the US and other countries, like China, Japan and Australia, have gathered in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur to discuss regional and security issues.
“The Secretaries reaffirmed the commitment of their respective countries to the resolution of the disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with the rule of law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” a Department of Foreign Affairs statement issued in Manila said.
China insists its actions, such as the construction of artificial islands, are done within its sovereign rights, stating several times that its ownership of virtually the entire South China Sea is “indisputable” and anchored on history.
As they discussed the progress on the arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China’s sweeping maritime claims in the resource-rich waters, Del Rosario and Kerry agreed on the need for all claimant states “to behave responsibly and avoid further aggressive unilateral action.”
China’s reclamation, Del Rosario said, covers at least 800 hectares, which is equivalent to over 1,000 football fields, and has caused “irreversible” damage on the sea’s marine ecosystem.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the waters.
Recognizing the shared regional challenges, the DFA said the two officials discussed new areas and initiatives for defense and security cooperation, which in recent years have focused on maritime security and maritime domain awareness.
Del Rosario and Kerry also agreed on the need to reconvene the Philippines-US Ministerial Consultations that involves the Defense and Foreign and State Secretaries of both countries “at the soonest possible time to move forward a more robust security agenda.”
They also sought for the early implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement to “underscore the strength and relevance” of the two nations’ treaty alliance, the DFA said.
The Philippine Supreme Court has yet to decide on the legality of the accord. EDCA, signed in April 2014, was questioned by militant groups and asked the tribunal to declare it unconstitutional.