MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday reiterated his call for Southeast Asian unity in pursuing peace and stability in the South China Sea under international law, including the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated China’s expansive claim over the disputed waters.
“We have come a long way in keeping the peace and promoting prosperity in our region. We must not allow those with diverging interests to make our efforts fail,” Duterte said at the virtual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Duterte also repeated calls to protect and preserve the biodiversity and marine environment of the South China Sea, noting that 2017-2027 is the "Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection" in the maritime area.
The President also urged countries to translate commitments into action as regards the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
“Talks should not remain empty rhetoric. They should be translated into action to fortify the trust and confidence we have cultivated through the years. Acta non verba. Deeds, not words,” he said.
Duterte also reaffirmed the Philippines' commitment to the conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
Last May, Duterte sparked uproar after he compared the UN-backed arbitral ruling, which was in favor of Manila and junked Beijing's claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, to a piece of "paper" that could be thrown into the wastebasket.
Duterte was slammed by critics who said that "he kowtowed to China and its refusal to recognize the decision."
Facing growing domestic pressure to take a harder line on Beijing, Duterte has said Philippine maritime forces will double their patrol efforts in the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Duterte, during the summit, also urged fellow Southeast Asian state leaders to "stand with Myanmar in solving its crisis peacefully for the welfare of its people."
"The President urged all parties in Myanmar to engage in constructive dialogue, stressing that the ASEAN Special Envoy must be allowed to visit Myanmar soon to meet all relevant parties," Duterte's office said in a statement.
The summit began without military-ruled Myanmar, after its junta refused to send a representative following its leader's exclusion for ignoring a peace roadmap agreed six months ago.
ASEAN decided to sideline junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led a Feb. 1 coup against an elected government, for his failure to cease hostilities, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with opponents, as agreed with the 10-member bloc.
— With a report from Reuters
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