PUTRAJAYA - President Benigno Aquino urged for a peaceful solution to the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute in accordance with the rule of law during a state visit to Malaysia on Friday.
Aquino said the issue was discussed during a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
"The prime minister and I agreed with a peaceful settlement of the dispute in the West Philippines and the South China Sea in accordance with the rule of law and the United Nations Convention of the Law of Sea. We believe that with the rule of law plus engagement and sincere dialogue is fundamental if we are to build a truly prosperous and peaceful Southeast Asia," said Aquino after a meeting with Najib.
China claims about 90 percent of the 3.5-million-sq-km resource-rich waters situated in the south of China and surrounding several Southeast Asian nations. Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.
In a latest incident, the Philippines lodged a protest with China on Tuesday, saying the Chinese were trying to keep the fishermen from fishing in Philippines waters around the Scarborough Shoal.
China's foreign ministry, which has already rejected the complaint, said its boats had every right to respond to "provocative" acts in its territory.
The Philippines has urged regional grouping the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to conclude a binding code of conduct (CoC) with China to avoid accidents and miscalculations in the disputed waters, but China has been insisting direct dialogues with each claimant instead of group discussion.
The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate.
Aquino also thanked Malaysia for facilitating talks between the Philippine government and Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Representatives from the Philippine government and the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the final and most challenging Annex on Normalization, in Kuala Lumpur in January, the fourth part of a peace roadmap that was set out in October 2012.
A Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro will be signed in Manila at the end of March, the leaders said.
"I wish to personally thank His Excellency the Prime Minister for the significant support, the government and the people of Malaysia have demonstrated in facilitating and hosting the peace talks between my government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The successful conclusion of the Mindanao peace process find solute in the determination of both our people to strengthen the foundation of peace and justice, this makes possible of the empowerment of all the people in Mindanao," Aquino said.
The two leaders also discussed security cooperation between the nations.
"In addition to closer cooperation between our security forces, military and police, we did stress the importance of timely exchange of the intelligence as well as ensuring a high degree of deterrent. In this regards, we are looking at a possibility of establishing a hotline between our security forces in the event of any incidents," Najib said.
Aquino is expected to meet members of the business community from both nations before returning to Manila later in the day.