MANILA – Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said Manila is now looking at adopting a proposal of US diplomat Danny Russel which calls on China and Southeast Asian nations to impose a moratorium on actions in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) seen as provocative.
''Let's call for a moratorium in terms of activities that escalate tension. Now, let's do that while we work on expeditious conclusion of the code of conduct (in the South China Sea) and its full implementation,'' Del Rosario told ANC Headstart.
''We would use the international community to step up. We need to manage the tensions in the South China Sea before it gets out of hand. We would do this with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). We hope we will be able to get the claimant states to pitch in. Within the year, we hope to put forth this proposition."
Del Rosario said he might bring up this proposal during a ministerial-level meeting proposed by Indonesia which will primarily focus on the South China Sea tensions.
Del Rosario raised this possibility amid the increasing tensions in the South China Sea following several actions of China that have earned the ire of its neighbors, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Philippines recently lodged a diplomatic protest against China's reclamation in Kennan Reef (Hughes Reef).
It also protested China's reclamation on Mabini (Johnson) Reef. It claimed that China appeared to be building in Mabini what could be the first airstrip in the contested waters.
The Philippines also said China was conducting reclamation activities at Cuarteron (Calderon) Reef, Gaven (Burgos) Reef, and Eldad (Malvar) Reef.
Vietnam, meanwhile, is protesting China's deployment of an oil rig in a portion of the sea which it claims but is controlled by Beijing.
Del Rosario said China might be trying to change the facts on the ground in the South China Sea in anticipation of several developments.
Del Rosario said the ramping up of Chinese construction and patrol activities in the disputed waters could be related to a possible ruling by the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal on the case filed by the Philippines questioning the Asian giant's expansive claims over the South China Sea.
''They [China] do this very quickly in anticipation of the handing down of the tribunal award, the conclusion of the arbitration. They feel that their expansion agenda should be completed before these events,'' he said.
The Philippines is hoping for an early ruling by the tribunal. However, before any decision can be reached, the tribunal must first rule that it has jurisdiction over the case.
AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW?
Del Rosario maintained that despite China's efforts to change the facts on the ground, ''international law views that a change in the feature will not change the consideration for that feature. If you take a reef and convert it to an island to be able to increase its maritime entitlements, that is not allowed.''
Del Rosario also said that aside from the tribunal ruling, China could also be looking to strengthen its presence in the contested waters ahead of the possible establishment of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
''They want to do this before the conclusion of the COC, because the COC looks forward and not backwards,'' Del Rosario said.
In 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which the Philippines is a member-state, came up with the Declaration of the Code of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.
In the DOC, China and ASEAN member-states agreed to resolve their overlapping maritime disputes through peaceful means and in accordance with international law.
The Philippines believes the recent actions of China in the disputed waters are violations of the DOC.
Based on the DOC, China and ASEAN nations agreed to adopt a legally binding code of conduct which would set up rules on how claimant states should behave in the contested waters.
However, the establishment of a binding code of conduct that will replace the DOC faces a host of challenges. One of these is China's influence over some ASEAN member-states, which has divided the regional bloc and caused delays in the adoption of a COC.
Meanwhile, Del Rosario said the Philippines supports the Japanese government's efforts to remilitarize in order to counter China's growing military might and increasing assertiveness in the region.
Japan itself is embroiled in a dispute over the ownership of certain Japanese-administered uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been eyeing to have his country's self-imposed ban on exercising the right to come to the defense of an ally under attack lifted.
''They have come up with a collective self-defense position and we feel that if the government and the people of Japan… if they decided to proceed with it, we obviously consider it a positive development,'' Del Rosario said.