MALAYSIA — President Benigno Aquino III once again apealed to China to respect the rule of law amid increasing tensions in the South China Sea due to Beijing’s massive land reclamation and use of force, which he said has threatened livelihoods of Filipino fishermen and damage the ecological environment in the disputed waters.
In his intervention during the 10th East Asia Summit here on Sunday, November 22, the President enumerated the incidents in the contested waters that have affected the relations between the Philippines and China.
“During my watch, among the first incidents as regards the maritime issue involved a survey ship conducting studies arising from a service contract we awarded. It was forced out of the Reed Bank, in an area 80 miles from the island of Palawan, which is thus clearly within our Exclusive Economic Zone. Later, Chinese fishing boats were caught carrying species covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, 120 miles from Masinloc, Zambales, again within our Exclusive Economic Zone,” he said.
“We had been asked not to make these incidents public, and we agreed, in an effort to deescalate the situation. However, the incidents did not cease. More recently, a PLAN frigate with Bow No. 571 allegedly accosted and challenged another survey ship conducting studies on a contract we awarded, about 30 to 40 nautical miles from Palawan,” he added.
“I have also had to respond to fishermen in my country, complaining about how they can no longer fish in their traditional waters; they ask for explanations why they can no longer take shelter within Scarborough Shoal during times of inclement whether. It has come to a point wherein we are now no longer allowed to enter areas within our Exclusive Economic Zone,” he further said.
The President said these incidents were among the reasons that prompted Manila to resort to international arbitration, which China has repeatedly refused to honor.
Facing all 10 ASEAN member states plus eight major dialogue partners namely United States, Russia, China, India, Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, President Aquino stressed that elevating maritime cooperation as priority pillar will further heighten the relevance of the EAS.
He noted that maritime disputes have been a subject of concern, not only to the region, but to the entire international community as well.
“It is regrettable that China continues to massively reclaim and build structures in the sea known by many names, in total disregard of international law as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Many countries have expressed serious concerns that these actions threaten freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce in one of the world’s most strategic waterways,” he said.
President Aquino said the Philippines would continue to push for the completion of a binding code of conduct for parties in the South China Sea stressing that “the great equalizer is the rule of law; and under the rule of law, right prevails over might.”
In light of recent developments in the South China Sea, the Chief Executive said the Philippines appreciates Beijing’s expression of adherence to international law in the position paper it submitted to the Arbitral Tribunal in December 2014, as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent statement on the non-militarization of the South China Sea.
“As the arbitration process we have entered into continues to its logical conclusion, we are hopeful that China would honor its word and respect the rule of law. The world is watching and expects no less from a responsible global leader,” he said.
The President expressed appreciation for the growing support from the international community for a peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.
“The tribunal’s recent ruling on its jurisdiction over this matter is welcome news, not only for the Philippines, but also for all nations who wish to arrive at a durable resolution concerning maritime disputes,” he said.
“We are determined to see this arbitration case to its final outcome, and hope that its conclusion will contribute to the directions we will take, particularly as regards the full and effective implementation of the DOC and the expeditious conclusion of a Code of Conduct,” he added.
Leaders at the EAS Summit adopted the Declaration on Enhancing Regional Maritime Cooperation, which promotes peace, stability and security in the region by redoubling cooperative efforts, namely: encouraging more countries to accede to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ensuring the universal application of international law and respect for sovereignty, ensuring that all countries enjoy and exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS.
The leaders likewise expressed support for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and early conclusion of an effective code of conduct on the basis of consensus. PCOO/jb/PIA