China ready to work with Asean for sea peace

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    CHINA is ready to work with Southeast Asian countries for long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea, Chinese premier Li Keqiang said yesterday in Thailand after meeting leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

    China’s sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea are rejected by several members of ASEAN, which have competing claims in the busy waterway.

    Aside from China, the other claimants are the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

    At the summit in Bangkok, Li cited progress on a long-awaited South China Sea code of conduct, due for completion within three years.

    “We are willing to work with Asean, under the consensus that had been reached, to sustain long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea, according to the timetable set for three years,” Li said in a statement.

    A legally binding code has long been a goal for Asean members sparring over what they see as China’s disregard of sovereign rights and its obstruction of their energy exploration and fishing.

    President Duterte, one of the leaders attending the summit, on Saturday reiterated his call to all claimants in the South China Sea to exercise self-restraint and refrain from undertaking activities that would heighten tension and instability in the disputed waters, and to follow the rule of law. He also renewed his call for the quick for code of conduct in the contested area.

    The President, during the 22nd Association of Southeast Asian Nation-China Summit, also called attention to land reclamation activities and “militarization” of areas, which he said erode trust and confidence among concerned parties.

    Malacañang said Duterte also emphasized that all nations in the disputed area play a significant role in ensuring and maintaining the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity through international cooperation.

    “We are strongly committed to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and to conclude the negotiations of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct. True to its name and nature, we aspire to have a Code that would guide the behavior of states on activities in the South China Sea, in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the President said.

    On the ASEAN-China Code of Conduct, Duterte said it would be “one of the most important deliverables for the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN-China relations” if realized soon.

    He said that as the country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, the Philippines is committed to push negotiations forward and to keep the momentum going.

    “Let us get this job done sooner than later as we are given the assurance of tranquility of the area,” he said.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, in a press briefing after the ASEAN-China summit yesterday, said the Philippines welcomes China’s statement that it is open to the conclusion of a code of conduct.

    Panelo said China’s openness means it “recognizes the fact that if it does not agree to a code of conduct, there will be turmoil in the region, there will be conflicts, there will be fighting and I don’t think China would like that.”

    ‘BOGUS STORY’

    Duterte and the nine other ASEAN leaders attending the summit each received on Saturday a football jersey from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which was given to them as a form of token for their support.

    Malacañang belied talks Duterte was the only leader who did not receive the jersey.

    Duterte was the last one among the 10 leaders to receive the jersey.

    Panelo said critics were behind the “bogus” story which is part a “campaign of hate” against the President.

    “With this succeeding bogus news coming in the heels of the fabricated news story dragging Thailand’s monarchy, it becomes predictable that this vicious campaign of hate against PRRD will not cease until his last day in office,” Panelo said.

    He was referring to an alleged news item that came out last Friday claiming the king of Thailand ordered Duterte to behave during the summit.

    LORENZANA SPEAKS

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday told China to abide by international laws in connection with the South China Sea l dispute if it wants to be respected by other countries.

    Lorenzana made the statement after reports said Chinese ships harassed a foreign oil tanker while passing near the disputed Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal on September 30.

    The Liberia-flagged Green Aura, manned by Filipino crewmen, was transiting six nautical miles from the shoal when it was ordered by a Chinese warship to stay away. The tanker defied the challenge.

    The tanker’s captain, Manolo Ebora, told the Chinese ship they have a right to innocent passage and that the shoal belongs to the Philippines.

    The Chinese ship replied the shoal is “under the jurisdiction of Chinese government” and deployed a Coast Guard vessel to tail the tanker when Ebora repeatedly ignored the challenges. Ebora then decided to order his tanker to veer away from the shoal.

    China gained control of the shoal in 2012 following a stand-off with Philippine vessels. The Chinese initially prevented Filipinos from fishing in the area but later reconsidered it due improved relations with the administration of President Duterte.

    “The Chinese government must respect international maritime laws if it wants to earn the respect of the international community,” said Lorenzana.

    He reiterated his call “for all countries to exercise prudence and respect freedom of navigation and passage in the WPS (West Philippine Sea).”

    Lorenzana noted Scarborough Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, is well within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration declared the shoal as a “common fishing area.”

    He said the incident involving Green Aura “should not be blown out of proportion or sensationalized” because the tanker “was able to safely reach its intended port of destination unimpeded.”

    Lorenzana also said an official report of the incident has been forwarded to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, chaired by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., “for their appropriate action.” – Jocelyn Montemayor, Victor Reyes, and Reuters