Del Rosario wants expeditious conclusion of the COC

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Thursday, August 8, 2013


FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on late Wednesday said he is hoping for the "expeditious conclusion" of the Code of Conduct (COC), which will supposedly govern the activities of the claimant-countries in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

This was said even as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier said the finalization of the COC needs to be done in a step-by-step manner. Del Rosario admitted he doesn't know what China meant exactly by Wang's statement but "we will see."

"Well, I think there's full consensus on the part of the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). There has always been. It is always our hope that we will have China on board on the full implementation of the DOC (Declaration on the Code of Conduct) and moving on the expeditious conclusion of COC," the Foreign Affairs chief said at the sidelines of the celebration of the 46th founding anniversary of the Asean held at the National Museum.

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Del Rosario and the rest of the representatives from the Asean will meet with Chinese officials in Beijing this September.

Prior to the September meeting, the Foreign Affairs chief and his co-Asean ministers will be holding a meeting in Bangkok on Wednesday (August 14) to discuss among the bloc what they hope to achieve in the September consultative meeting.

Asean groups together the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.

Del Rosario earlier said he wants to hold "negotiations" with China and not merely "consult" with them in September. The term is an important nuance that indicated China's unwillingness to expedite the negotiations on the COC, analysts said.

The conclusion of the COC is provided under the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC), which was signed by a Beijing and the 10-member bloc. It aims to reduce the political tensions in the resource-rich region, which has increasingly become the biggest potential military flashpoint in Southeast Asia.

Asked about Wang's recent comments, which urged claimant-countries to negotiate bilaterally with Beijing, del Rosario said the Philippine government's position is for China to respect its maritime and territorial jurisdiction.

"We want to call the attention and redirect the attention of everyone to the fact that we need to deal with the core issue. The core issue being the nine-dash line," he told reporters.

China's "excessive" nine-dash line reached as far as its neighbor's islands and encompasses almost the whole West Philippine Sea, a commercially vital sea lane where $5 trillion worth of global trade passes by.

It is the core of Manila's arbitration case against China before the United Nations-backed International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos). The Philippines wants Beijing's nine-dash line claim to be invalidated.

Del Rosario said the five-member arbitral tribunal has yet to decide whether it has a jurisdiction on the case, but he expects the decision to be handed down in two weeks. China refused to participate in the arbitration.

China's recent statements will not affect the case filed before The Hague, the Foreign Affairs chief noted.

"No, it cannot be. That train has left a long time ago," he added.

Territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea have been long-standing, but tensions rose last year when Chinese ships intruded into the Philippines-claimed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal. A two-month naval standoff ensued thereafter.

Beijing's aggressive stance in the resource-rich region, which is being claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam, was boosted by its massive economic growth in the past decade. (CVB/Sunnex)

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