March 31, 2017, 8:35 am
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South China Sea code may be completed mid-year: Yasay

THE Philippines is hopeful that a code of conduct on the South China Sea among Southeast Asian nations and China will be completed by the middle of the year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said yesterday.

“Even as we speak, we continue to have discussions with our high officials, below ministerial level,” Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay told a news conference.

The code of conduct has been in the works since 2002 and has been plagued by delays, which Yasay described as “intervening events” that had prevented it moving forward.

Yasay said China had been “very cooperative” in helping it progress.

He said the Philippines will not raise the ruling of the Netherlands-based arbitral tribunal invalidating China’s massive claim in the disputed South China Sea in the Asean summit, which it chairs.

“We feel no special purpose to raise the arbitration ruling at the Asean. It is a matter that will be raised with China at the right time. We will raise the arbitral ruling as basis to pursue claims when we are able to engage China,” he said.

He said the Philippines will continue to be engaged in discussions about the South China Sea dispute.

Yasay said Asean ministers are working with China on the draft code of conduct.

“We’re sitting down with China in the formulation of the Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct will be based on the declaration of conduct agreed upon by Asean and China in 2002 and I am hopeful that the Code will be completed by mid-2017,” he added.

He said the Code may not refer to the arbitral tribunal’s ruling because “it may not be a good idea.” But he said fishing rights may be included in the Code.

He said the Code may even open the door to a “speeding up of bilateral relations” with China.

President Duterte has made improving bilateral relations with China one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy in contrast with the administration of then president Benigno Aquino who challenged Beijing’s massive claims in the South China Sea to the extent of filing a case before the arbitral tribunal.

Yasay said the benefits of the President’s pragmatic approach in dealing with China can already be seen as Filipino fishermen have been allowed to fish again at the Scarborough Shoal. Chinese investments are again pouring into the country.

He said as Asean chairman this year, the Philippines will focus on the promotion of regional peace and stability, maritime security and cooperation, migrant worker’s rights and the rule of law as well as combating the scourge of corruption and illegal drugs.

He added that the country is also aiming for a regional agreement on the rights of all migrant workers before yearend.

‘The Philippines will also work closely with ASEAN member-states in protecting human rights across the region,” he said. 

Five hundred soldiers were flown yesterday to Davao City to help secure the launching of the Asean summit in the city on Sunday, said AFP public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo.

Arevalo said the soldiers, who were flown from Manila, include personnel from the Explosive and Ordnance Disposal and K-9 units. – With Victor Reyes and Reuters
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