ASEAN must stay united amid China row - Palace

by Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 19 2012 10:29 PM | Updated as of Jul 20 2012 07:25 PM

Welcomes Indonesia's move to patch things up

MANILA, Philippines - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must stay united amid some of its members' territorial disputes with China, Malacañang said Thursday.

The Palace welcomed the efforts of Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to patch things up among ASEAN member-states after the group did not issue a joint communiqué during the foreign ministers' meeting in Cambodia.
Cambodia had reportedly rejected the desire of the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their respective territorial disputes in the communiqué, disappointing diplomats. 
"We certainly welcome the efforts of the Indonesian foreign minister. It is important that ASEAN as a regional bloc be maintained and the centrality be preserved," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
"The failure of ASEAN to issue a joint communiqué is something that the ASEAN foreign ministers are concerned with. Despite contentious issues in the past, they were able to issue a joint communiqué. The fact that you're not able to issue one is something that the ASEAN foreign ministers are not satisfied with. Hence there is a need to maintain or reinvigorate the ASEAN as regional bloc," he added.

Natalegawa met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario in Manila, before he went to Vietnam and Cambodia to patch up disagreements within the 10-member ASEAN.

"That Indonesia has been carrying out, over the past 36 hours, it is fair to describe it as being an intensive shuttle diplomacy effort, an intensive working-the phone-effort to the purpose of which, to once again restore or to reiterate what is the segment of fact. That segment of fact is that ASEAN continues to remain to be united, to be cohesive on all issues of common concern, not least, and especially on the issue of South China Sea," Natalegawa said.

In an apparent effort to repair the rift, Cambodia on Thursday said the ASEAN is now working to craft a joint statement on the South China Sea issue.

Indonesia and Cambodia said several key points have already been outlined and the joint communiqué would be released once it is approved by other member-states.

Chinese fishing ships in Subi Reef

Meanwhile, the military on Thursday said photos taken by reconnaissance aircraft on July 17 show that around 29 Chinese fishing ships are now in the contested waters of Subi Reef.

The fleet is escorted by a Chinese maritime surveillance ship and a merchant ship.  

Another Chinese ship with a landing strip was spotted 12 nautical miles from Pag-Asa Island, the miltary said.

Department of National Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said they have to check if the ships are within Philippine territory.

 "If it's within the 200 nautical miles EEZ (exclusive economic zone) of the country, the department, with its recent upgrading of its capabilities, in whatever capability it can muster, it will of course with authorization of course from our foreign affairs and other leaders," he said.

He declined directly said if the Philippines "will do a Russia" in using force against Chinese fishing vessels that illegally enter another country's domain.

"As long as it is within our capability, we will be enforcing what we could in support, of course, with our Coast Guard. It will be of course under the purview of the foreign affairs and our Coast Guard because the department will always be ready to support other agencies in enforcing these laws and (protect) the integrity of our country," he said.

"We continue to believe that at the moment, peaceful (settlement) can still be achieved. As we have said earlier, the use of force is of course not the solution to this particular problem, to this particular impasse," he said.

"We will continue with our diplomatic approach with the matter," Galvez added. - with reports from ANC, Reuters