PH pushes for freedom of navigation, overflight in South China Sea

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2021 08:09 PM

An aerial shot of Chinese-claimed Subi reef
An aerial shot of Chinese-claimed Subi reef, from a Philippine Air Force plane, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana along with some journalists visit the Philippine-claimed Thitu island just in the Spratlys on April 21, 2017. Ted Aljibe, AFP/File

MANILA - The Philippines has stressed the importance of maintaining freedom and navigation and overflight at the contested South China Sea, as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes through international law. 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) will continue to champion respect for international law and reaffirm the importance of maintaining peace in disputed waters, said Maria Theresa Lazaro, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs during a webinar. 

The webinar was organized by the European Union Delegation to the Philippines.

"ASEAN and EU should continue to reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, safety and the right to freedom and navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS,” Lazaro said.

She also hoped that the finalization of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in accordance with international law would "provide a new regime of peace, stability and prosperity... in the future.”

Beijing maintains constant presence of coastguard and fishing boats to assert sovereignty in the international waterway, within which is the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also have competing claims in the resource-rich waters.

This is despite an arbitral ruling of a UN-backed tribunal in 2016 concluding that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its so-called "nine-dash line,” which encompasses nearly all of the waters. 

China has refused to recognize the award, calling it “illegal, null and void.” The award was a result of a Philippine filing. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has shelved the ruling, calling it a mere piece of paper that belongs to the trash bin. He has, instead, pursued friendlier ties with China in exchange for investments and infrastructure funding. 

COVID-19 VACCINE MULTILATERALISM 

Lazaro said the ASEAN and the EU “strongly support vaccine multilateralism” with the World Health Organization as they work together to ensure “fair, equitable, and affordable access to safe and effective vaccines as global public goods.”

She also expressed appreciation for the EU’s package of over 800 million Euros to combat the spread of diseases and to mitigate their impact to the region.

Lazaro expressed hope that the EU would continue supporting ASEAN’s pandemic response and recovery efforts, including equitable and timely access to vaccines.

The Philippines currently serves as the coordinator of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations. 

EU Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron, meanwhile, said the EU is determined to deepen trade and security engagement in the region and promote multilateralism to address challenges.
 
The EU also welcomed the appointment of Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s Second Minister of Foreign Affairs, 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.

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The EU also called for the quick implementation of the “Five-Point Consensus” that was reached by the ASEAN leaders in April following the military takeover in Myanmar.

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.