MANILA - The Philippines and Australia have reiterated that the 2016 South China Sea arbitration award is final and legally binding on the parties to the dispute.
In a joint statement issued following the fifth Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) held on August 23, the foreign and trade ministers of the two countries also expressed “serious concern” over the “continuing militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea, the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard vessels and maritime militias, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.”
Without naming China, they emphasized that “the actions of a state’s coast guard, and its associated legal frameworks, must be consistent with international law.”
The Philippines in January 2021 filed a diplomatic protest over China’s law that allows its coast guard fire on foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.
“The Ministers and Secretaries expressed serious concern about the continuing militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea, the dangerous and coercive use of coast guard vessels and maritime militias, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities,” the statement read.
“They emphasized that the actions of a state’s coast guard, and its associated legal frameworks, must be consistent with international law.”
The Philippines and Australia reiterated the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight and said that all disputes should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“They noted the fifth anniversary of the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award and reaffirmed that it is final and legally binding on the parties to the dispute. They called for any Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to be fully consistent with international law, in particular UNCLOS, not prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights of states under international law, and support existing inclusive regional architecture,” the statement read.
The joint statement was issued by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne and Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan, MP, and their Philippine counterparts, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez.
COOPERATION VS COVID-19
On cooperation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, both sides acknowledged Australia’s AUD523 million Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, from 2020 to 2023, for vaccine procurement, delivery support and the provision of technical assistance.
This will provide AUD 35.9 million for the Philippines and AUD21 million to support the establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED).
Australia’s broader vaccine-related support to the region includes the AUD1 million for the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund to procure vaccines in partnership with UNICEF; the AUD130 million for the COVAX Facility’s Advance Market Commitment “which will provide sufficient vaccines for almost 32 million people in the Philippines”; the AUD100 million contribution to the Quad Vaccine Partnership, with the focus on vaccine provision and delivery in Southeast Asia; and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement at the G7 meeting on June 11 that Australia will share at least 20 million vaccines doses for people across our region by mid-2022.
“Australia also announced that arrangements were underway for the immediate provision of 100 oxygen concentrators to the Philippines,” the statement read.
The Philippines also welcomed Australia’s Partnerships for Recovery “which responds to the COVID-19 pandemic with response and recovery support for the Philippines” worth AUD79 million for 2021-22.
On Myanmar, both countries called for an immediate cessation of violence and inclusive dialogue between parties.
They also called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained, including Australian Professor Sean Turnell, adviser to the deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“They agreed on the important role for ASEAN in facilitating a peaceful solution in Myanmar and in this regard, they welcomed the appointment of the Minister of Foreign Affairs II of Brunei Darussalam as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar,” the statement read as the countries called for implementation of the Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar adopted at the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on April 24.
They look forward “to an early visit to Myanmar by the Special Envoy, where he should have full access to all parties concerned.”
“The Secretaries and Ministers also expressed concern about the impact of recent events on humanitarian crises across Myanmar and the surge in COVID-19 cases, and called on the military regime to enable safe, unimpeded access for donors, and to support health workers to provide care to those in need,” the statement read.