PH thanks US for affirming mutual defense pact

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 06 2021 06:15 PM | Updated as of Aug 06 2021 06:44 PM

US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. elbow bump after the turnover ceremony of defense articles, at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Nov. 23, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters
US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. elbow bump after the turnover ceremony of defense articles, at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Nov. 23, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has welcomed the United States’ reaffirmation of its obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty, noting that the alliance is "vital" for stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking at the virtual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Post-Ministerial Conference Session with the US on Aug. 4, Locsin also thanked the treaty ally for its open support for the 2016 arbitral award which invalidated China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea.

The conference session was attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. 

Reiterating his previous statement before the virtual ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference Session with China, Locsin said the award is “most helpful in clarifying maritime issues” and that “only a bad conscience should feel aggrieved by it.”

“The award is the Philippines’ contribution to strengthening the legal order of the seas. It must be seen for what it is: a benefit to all the world across the board," the country's top diplomat said. 

"It singles out no one; was carefully crafted to be unusable as a weapon for disputation, and is most helpful in clarifying maritime issues. Only a bad conscience should feel aggrieved by it,” he added. 

He also welcomed the United States’ call for a stop to provocative actions in the resource-rich and disputed waters, as well as its condemnation of the “excessive reach” of Bejing's Coast Guard Law.

The said law authorizes the Chinese coast guard to fire at other countries’ ships that fish or conduct economic activities in waters claimed by China, even if these are “situated beyond the territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or extended continental shelf of China.”

“We took notice when the US urged the cessation of provocative actions certain to provoke reactions by maritime militia in the South China Sea and renounced the excessive reach of China’s necessarily municipal Coast Guard Law. Such declarations reinforce the rules-based order and benefit all that use the vital artery that is the South China Sea,” he said. 

He also pointed out that the Philippines’ decision to reinstate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US restores the balance of power in the region. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said he was unsure why President Rodrigo Duterte had reversed himself but made the decision after meeting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila last week.

Before this, the President had extended suspending the VFA's abrogation thrice.

The Filipino official likewise welcomed US efforts to uphold “multilateralism and a rules-based international system, respect for sovereignty and the rule of law, support for the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific, and maintaining ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture.”

“Defense Secretary Austin told my President that America is not asking anyone to take sides; America is just asking help in the work of keeping level the playing field for competition. The old phrase is the balance of power; always a delicate and close-run thing,” he said.

PH ALSO THANKS AUSTRALIA

Meanwhile, Locsin also thanked Australia during the ASEAN Post-ministerial Conference Session with the country on the same day, for its support to the 2016 arbitral award. 

Speaking at the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held on Aug. 2, Locsin maintained The Hague ruling is “not directed at any other country, near or far."

“July 12 marked the 5th anniversary of the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea... It must be seen for what it is: a benefit to all the world across the board,” said the official on the ruling in response to a Philippine filing against Chinese incursions in the disputed waters.

"It favors all similarly situated by clarifying definitively a legal situation beyond the reach of arms to frustrate. It is the North Star that will guide us in the present to the future that we want—a peaceful and prosperous South China Sea.”

CODE OF CONDUCT

During the Foreign Ministers' meeting on Aug. 2, Locsin confirmed that the Preamble for the Code of Conduct (COC) has been “provisionally agreed on” by the parties.

The Philippines has now turned over the role of Country Coordinator for negotiations on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea to Myanmar.

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“As the outgoing Country Coordinator, the Philippines takes pride in whatever progress has been achieved in the negotiations on the Code of Conduct,” Locsin said.

“We convened around 20 meetings; agreed on the value of restarting textual negotiations through virtual meetings; and are pleased that the Preamble is now provisionally agreed on.”

According to the Joint Communiqué issued following the said meeting, the resumption of textual negotiations on the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text (SDNT) has resulted in the provisional agreement on the Preamble section “after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Even as the foreign ministers “warmly welcomed the continuously improving cooperation between ASEAN and China,” they stressed that there is a need to keep and encourage "an environment conducive to the COC negotiations." 

There is also a need, they said, to welcome "practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation.”

“We stressed the importance of undertaking confidence building and preventive measures to enhance, among others, trust and confidence amongst parties, and we reaffirmed the importance of upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” the foreign ministers said in their Joint Communiqué.

At the 23rd ASEAN Political-Security Community Council Meeting held on Aug. 2, Locsin emphasized that the Philippines will continue to “call out unilateral actions disturbing the peace in the South China Sea."

"The goal is clear: we remain committed to the conclusion of an effective and substantive COC."

CONCERNS

The ministers, in the Joint Communiqué, reaffirmed the need to exercise “self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability” in the South China Sea, most especially among the claimants.

Some of the ministers expressed concern over the land reclamations, activities, and serious incidents in the area, including damage to the marine environment.

These, they said, "have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region."

“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation," according to the ministers.

“We further reaffirmed the need to pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS," they added. 

The ministers emphasized the role of non-militarization in the activities around and in the disputed waters.

ASEAN CHAIR’S SPECIAL ENVOY TO MYANMAR NAMED

The foreign ministers welcomed the ASEAN Chair’s appointment of Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs, to serve as the special envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar.

The special envoy is tasked to facilitate the mediation of the dialogue process in Myanmar following the coup d’etat that saw the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Locsin has joined calls for the release of Suu Kyi, her foreign adviser and other political detainees to pave the way for an effective dialogue among the parties.

He also called for the swift implementation of the “Five-Point Consensus” that was reached by the ASEAN Leaders in April following the coup.

The consensus called for a stop to violence, a constructive dialogue for a peaceful solution, the appointment of a special envoy of the ASEAN chair who will facilitate mediation of the dialogue process, and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

“The Chair’s special envoy must be allowed to start working, so unhindered humanitarian assistance be provided. For dialogue amongst involved parties to be effective, we call for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, other political detainees and her foreign adviser," Locsin said during the Aug. 4 conference session with US. 

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“Constructive dialogue is what the Five-Point Consensus calls for. It can only happen when everyone concerned is at the table. Myanmar will decide the future credibility of our regional organization; whether it means something or nothing.”

DENUCLEARIZED KOREAN PENINSULA

Meanwhile, Locsin said the Philippines is ready to “play a constructive role in advancing a peaceful and denuclearized Korean Peninsula.”

In the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference Session with the Republic of Korea held on Aug. 3, the official reiterated the country’s call for a peaceful dialogue among all concerned parties in the Peninsula.

“The Philippines stands ready to play a constructive role in advancing a peaceful and denuclearized Korean Peninsula bilaterally through confidence-building measures and regionally through ASEAN-led mechanisms," he said. 

"There can be no military solution to a conflict between brothers."