PHL says ASEAN agreed to issue joint statement before it was withdrawn

By , on June 17, 2016


Photo: ASEAN
Photo: ASEAN

MANILA—The Philippines said on Monday the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers have agreed to issue a joint statement expressing deep concern over recent developments in the disputed South China Sea hours before it was withdrawn.

Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, through DFA spokesman Charles Jose, said ASEAN ministers who participated in the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kunming, China on June 14 expressed their “serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

They also stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a position long-held by Manila.

Confusion marred the end of the meeting when Malaysia released the approved joint statement. Later on, it was retracted by Kuala Lumpur, saying the statement was not an official ASEAN communique.

ASEAN members Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia instead issued their respective national statements in lieu of the joint statement. The Philippines’ statement was released on Thursday.

“By the time the meeting ended, there was an agreement among ASEAN Foreign Ministers and there was a text of ASEAN statement and they agreed that it will be released. We don’t exactly know what happened,” Jose said in a news conference.

“All agreed to the content of the statement,” he added.

ASEAN members have been at odds over the issue of the South China Sea. While some members led by the Philippines and Vietnam back the rule of law and multilateral talks with Beijing in resolving the disputes, other countries aligned with China, such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, support bilateral negotiations or have blocked statements critical of Beijing’s aggressive actions in the waters.

According to Almendras, the ministers “emphasized the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would further complicate the situation or escalate tensions, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.”

They also articulated their commitment “to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS and the UN Charter.”

Amid China’s massive island-building in disputed rocks equipped with radars and surface-to-air missiles and military bases, the ministers “emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions” in the waters.

China insists it has historical and indisputable claim over 90 percent of the strategic waters where a bulk of the world’s trade pass and which is home to huge mineral deposits and natural oil and gas.

ASEAN, Almendras said, reiterated their firm commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety, and while noting the momentum and new phase of consultations, urged the early adoption of an effective Code of Conduct.

The Code is a non-binding non-aggression pact that prevents new occupation and activities that will stir up tensions in the waters.

“Pursuant to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety, and pending the early adoption of an effective Code of Conduct, stressed the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures that would enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties,” Almendras said of the ASEAN ministers’ agreed text.

When Manila’s arbitration case was raised, he said the Philippines’ reply underscored that arbitration is among the legal and diplomatic processes promoting the rule of law in the region.

He also said the case, filed in January 2013 in a bid to denigrate China’s massive sea claim, is fully consistent with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the region’s efforts to peacefully resolve the disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Charter.

A final decision is expected to be handed down by the The Hague court in the coming weeks.

China insists it has historical and indisputable claim over 90 percent of the strategic waters where a bulk of the world’s trade pass and which is home to huge mineral deposits and natural oil and gas.

Apart from the Philippines and China, other claimants to the waters are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

  • britbob

    Effective sovereignty Argument Uninhabited Islands: A case that supports this view of effective sovereignty is relevant is the Minquiers and Ecrehos Case, France/UK of 17th November 1953. In this case both the UK and France had requested the ICJ to determine which country held sovereignty over the uninhabited Islets and rocks in the Minquiers and Ecrehos. France had claimed sovereignty because of historic sovereignty going back to the Dutchy of Normandy in the 11th century while the UK claimed that Jersey had historically exercised administrational jurisdiction on them. The Court decided that in the absence of valid treaty provisions, they considered the argument that the British government has exercised effective control to be superior, so that sovereignty control over the Minquiers and Ecrehos belonged to the UK. (the UK had protested to the French government when a French national had intended to build a house on one of the islats and any deaths occurring on the islets were dealt with by inquests held on Jersey). ICJ Minquiers & Ecrehos Judgment, 17 Nov 1953, p28, paras 6 & 12..
    No delimitation between states with opposite or adjacent coasts may be affected unilaterally by one of those states. For some interesting judgments on territorial seas and to gain an understanding as to how the world court deals with such disputes:

    https://www.academia.edu/10574593/Falklands_Islands_Territorial_Waters