NAYPYITAW - Vietnam and the Philippines will raise the issue of China's recent "provocative" actions in the South China Sea, including a heated standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese armed vessels near the disputed Paracel Islands, in ASEAN meetings that start in Myanmar's capital Friday, ASEAN diplomats told Kyodo News late Thursday.
The diplomats, who are senior officials of the two countries, said China's actions to advance its claims over disputed maritime territories violate the Declaration on the Conduct of the South China Sea that China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed in 2002.
They referred in part to ongoing confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese armed ships near the Paracels, which were sparked last week when China sent an oil rig into the area that Vietnam considers part of its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Also mentioned was the sustained presence of Chinese armed vessels around Philippine-controlled Second Thomas Shoal and increasing poaching activities within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"We must not condone these provocative actions that escalate tension in the South China Sea," said one of the ASEAN diplomats.
Following meetings of ASEAN senior officials and foreign ministers on Friday and Saturday, ASEAN leaders, at their summit on Sunday, are expected to voice concern over increased tensions in the South China Sea, though it remains unclear whether specific incidents will be mentioned in a statement to be issued by Myanmar as chair of this year's ASEAN meetings.
"We are in consultations right now," another ASEAN diplomat said.
The Philippines has in the past accused fellow ASEAN member Cambodia, a close friend of China, of bowing to Chinese pressure by blocking inclusion in ASEAN documents of wording that China would find objectionable.
China, for its part, has put the blame for the recent tensions in the South China Sea squarely on Vietnam, saying Vietnamese vessels have been deliberately ramming into Chinese government ships in an attempt to disrupt China's drilling operations.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Thursday that between May 3 to 7, Vietnam dispatched 36 vessels of various kinds which rammed Chinese vessels for as many as 171 times.
Other ASEAN members have expressed concern over the recent developments in the sea and called on all parties to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that could further escalate tensions.
Singapore, for example, on Thursday urged ASEAN and China "to work toward an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea."
A draft of the chairman's statement seen by Kyodo News reads, "We commended the ongoing formal consultations between ASEAN and China on the development of the code of conduct in South China Sea and looked forward to its early conclusion," it reads.
Meanwhile, Charles Jose, spokesman of the Philippine' Department of Foreign Affairs, said President Benigno Aquino will inform other ASEAN leaders on the progress of the Philippine case against China in the U.N. arbitral tribunal.
Last month, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario announced that Manila had submitted to the tribunal a nearly 4,000-page document detailing the Philippines' legal arguments and evidence to prove China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are "unlawful and invalid."
The Philippines filed the case with the tribunal in January last year to seek "clarification" of the maritime entitlements of parties, including China, under the U.N. Law of the Sea.
Manila wants a five-member court based in The Hague to declare China's claim in the South China Sea invalid and against the convention.
China, which claims most of the South China Sea, has refused to participate in the U.N. arbitration process, warning that it does not offer a solution to the problems and will only undermine peace and stability in Southeast Asia.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia all have territorial claims in the region.
Myanmar is hosting the ASEAN meetings for the first time since it joined the regional grouping 17 years ago.
As ASEAN chair, Myanmar has chosen the theme "Moving Forward in Unity to a Peaceful and Prosperous Community," to highlight the importance of a united ASEAN.
"Myanmar's theme also manifests its commitment to contribute to the realization of a politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible, and people-centered community," Jose said.
During the 24th ASEAN summit plenary, he said the leaders will discuss and exchange views on the progress of the implementation of the roadmap for an ASEAN Community.
Aside from the chairman's statement, Myanmar will also issue the so-called Naypyitaw Declaration on Realization of ASEAN Community by 2015.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.