South China Sea row casts shadow over WEF

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 20 2014 05:19 PM | Updated as of May 21 2014 01:19 AM

MANILA - Disputes with China in the West Philippine Sea is casting a shadow over the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia, which Manila is hosting this week.

President Aquino is expected to tackle this with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguy?n T?n D?ng and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who are both attending the WEF.

The Prime Minister of Vietnam is expected in Manila on Wednesday for a working visit, and Yudhoyono will be given the honors of a state visit on Friday.

The WEF is on Thursday, May 22.

Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said President Aquino and the Prime Minister of Vietnam met and spoke with each other during the last ASEAN Summit in Myanmar.

"It is reasonable to expect that they will continue to compare notes on the two countries’ experience in dealing with issues on the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea. We are still awaiting the finalization of the details of the visit," he said.

"The Philippines and Indonesia have just concluded in Jakarta discussions on an agreement on the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone boundaries between the two countries. President Aquino and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are expected to discuss the salient points of the agreement and other matters of mutual concern," he added.

Coloma said that as schedules permit, the Philippines may avail of the opportunity for a pull-aside meeting of those representatives of claimant countries to discuss the developments in the South China Sea during the World Economic Forum.

"As their respective schedules will permit...because they are here primarily for the WEF. I understand that the Prime Minister of Vietnam’s visit is characterized as a working visit and the Indonesian President’s visit is characterized as a state visit."

The Prime Minister of Vietnam arrives Wednesday midday and will have an expanded bilateral meeting with Aquino in the afternoon. A joint statement is expected. After that, the prime minister will be feted with a dinner.

Yudhoyono arrives Thursday afternoon and will go straight to the WEF. The state visit commences Friday morning and is expected to be marked by a bilateral meeting, the signing of agreements, a joint statement and a possible media conference. He will be feted with a state dinner.

Yudhoyono, who steps down as president in June, goes home the next day.

Coloma reaffirmed Aquino’s position against China’s reclamation.

"The government remains firm in its position on observing the rule of law and finding a peaceful settlement of disputes in the West Philippine Sea. The President affirms the government’s position as reflected in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and we quote: 'The Parties (shall) undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.'"

"This is reflective of the joint statement issued by the Foreign Ministers of all the member countries of ASEAN during the Plenary Session of the ASEAN Summit in Myanmar last week."

Coloma reiterated the call for the finalization of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea after discussions stalled.

He said President Aquino believes a Code of Conduct would "reduce tensions and create an environment of mutual trust and confidence that is conducive to the attainment of regional peace and stability."

Tensions among China, Vietnam and the Philippines have been rising over China's increasing assertiveness of its claims over the South China Sea.

China was discovered to be undertaking land reclamation at the Philippines' Mabini Shoal, in addition to chasing away Philippine boats attempting to restock the grounded BRP Sierra Madre in the Ayungin Shoal.

Aquino has denounced the reclamation as a violation of the non-binding declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Coloma said the government continues to monitor the reclamation activity in Mabini Reef.

"They have come up with photos that show the progressive developments in that area, comparing what was there in 2012, 2013, and in the most recent weeks. So the monitoring will simply continue. We have also filed a formal diplomatic protest. The Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement regarding that matter. Be that as it may, we continue to affirm our adherence to the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes," he said.

Riots meanwhile broke out in Vietnam following the discovery of an oil rig in the Paracel Islands. Vietnamese and Chinese ships also figured in a collision in the disputed areas.

In the 24th ASEAN summit held in Myanmar, Yudhoyono also denounced the gunboat diplomacy allegedly being played by China.

China has maintained it will not resort to war or invasion but continues to reject other countries' claims to the South China Sea.