TOKYO—President Aquino reiterated his call for China to adhere to international law and “reexamine” its reclamation activities in parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking before the 21st International Conference on The Future of Asia organized by the Japanese media group Nikkei, Aquino expressed concern over the possibility that the reclaimed islands would be populated in the future.
He reiterated that China’s action violates the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or DOC.
“You have previously features that could not support life. Now, they are being turned into islands. It is not far-fetched to imagine that at some point in time, there may be people, and we are, of course, bothered by comments; for instance, the last ambassador of the Philippines was asked: Do you intend to declare an ADIZ over the Spratlys and over the South China Sea? And they said that they are empowered to do so. This reclamation effort seems to go against both the letter of this agreement entered into, as well as the spirit of the law,” Aquino said.
“We reiterate, we ask China: Is this a necessary step? And if stability is a necessary prerequisite to prosperity for all, and if prosperity for all our peoples is the be-all and end-all of any government, then perhaps they should reexamine all of these efforts and see whether or not this is necessary given the increasing tensions that are happening because of these activities.”
Aquino described China’s territorial claim as “unlawful” and thanked Japan, the United States, the European Union and other countries for raising their concerns over China’s actions.
Aquino noted that China is a signatory of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and urged it to follow the “rule of law.”
“In the sea known by many names, estimated by some to facilitate the travel of about 40 percent of world trade, Japan has been steadfast in demonstrating its solidarity with the Philippines as we advocate freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the face of China’s unlawful territorial claim,” he said.
“We are united in the belief that the continued growth of Asia necessitates an environment where freedom of navigation is uninterrupted, and where the rule of law is respected by all, with no exception.”
Despite this, Aquino reiterated the Philippines’ desire to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner, citing the government’s move to bring the issue before an arbitral tribunal and push for the “expeditious conclusion” of a legally binding ASEAN code of conduct.
Aquino said the United States has a “balancing role” to play in calling out China over its actions.
He expressed appreciation for the presence of US bases in Okinawa, Japan and also spoke of the signing of the Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US since the Constitution bars the permanent presence of US bases in the Philippines.
“If there was a vacuum, if the United States which is the superpower, said we are not interested then perhaps there is no break to ambitions of other countries. Their presence becomes a factor that has to be contended with… perhaps push the envelope as far as what the agreements entitle them to or not,” Aquino said.