MANILA – The Philippine government has reiterated its push for the early conclusion of an “effective and substantive” Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
In an intervention delivered at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Cambodia on February 17, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines also wants a Code that “excludes no country or power in the rest of the world.”
“The COC will not nor can it claim for itself the sea after which it is named. That would curtail the immemorial freedom of the seas and international law,” he said.
A COC seeks to upgrade the non-binding 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC), which was the first multilateral agreement between China and the bloc on the South China Sea issue.
Since the single draft negotiating text of the COC was concluded in August 2018, the two parties have so far reached a “provisional agreement” on a preamble.
In the same speech, Locsin said parties should also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the DOC in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the sixth year of the Arbitral Award.
“Commitment to international law is the only honorable bulwark of law-abiding nations against grim reapers of conflict who thrive in the obscurity of doubletalk. Surrender and submission are out of the question,” he said.
“Unclos, whose 40th anniversary we commemorate this year, and the 2016 Arbitral Award, both provide legal clarity to all nations around the globe. These two landmark documents are not just beacons but the only coordinates pointing to a just and fair solution to disagreements,” he added.
Meanwhile, he underscored the importance of Asean centrality against the backdrop of major power rivalries in the region.
“Even in the pandemic, the tragedy of great power politics has gotten worse. The big powers keep trying to draw us to their respective sides. Our region should not be their playing field; it is our front yard,” he said.
“As we find ourselves in the center of trade and in the vortex of geopolitics, Asean centrality fortifies our resolve to hedge against the disastrous consequences of heightening rivalry between the great powers. The Asean way is the only way to keep the Asean community safe,” he added. (PNA)