THE Philippines, as it moves towards bolstering ties with China, will not concede its policies in acknowledging the importance of maintaining stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Malacañang said Wednesday, February 7.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. gave this assurance after foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) raised concerns over China's uninterrupted reclamation and militarization of disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Roque said the Duterte administration was "not being too soft" on China.
"We're not being too soft. We have established polic[ies] there," he told Palace reporters in a phone patch interview.
"Number one is we are of course, one with Asean in recognizing that this is concern for all Asean countries -- the freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea. Number two, of course, it is our common concern with everyone to maintain peace, security and stability in one of the world's busiest sea lanes," he added.
Asean's foreign ministers have emphasized the importance of avoiding any unwarranted actions in the South China Sea, amid the sea claimants' overlapping claims.
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in a statement released Tuesday, February 6, said the ministers took note of China's land reclamation and activities in the disputed waters.
Ministers stressed that such activities "have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region."
"We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation," Balakrishnan said.
Brueni, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims to the South China Sea.
In recent years, China has significantly expanded its claims to most of the waterway as it continues to build and militarize artificial islands .
China has also refused to acknowledge the July 6, 2016 arbitral ruling, which states that it has baseless argument to assert sovereign rights over the resource-rich area.
Roque said the Philippines, as a member of the Southeast Asian bloc, shared the same concern over the maritime row.
"The (Asean foreign ministers') concern is right," he said. "How are we not joining the call? We're a member of Asean. That's a call of Asean so the Philippines also joins the call." (SunStar Philippines)