Duterte thanks US support for landmark ruling
MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated during the latest Southeast Asian leaders' meetings his country's contribution to international law after securing a victory in the arbitration case against China on their maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
"The 2016 Arbitral Award is a significant contribution to the corpus of international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS. It singles out no one," Duterte said during Tuesday's virtual ASEAN-China Summit.
"Rather, it justly favors and benefits the community of law-abiding nations by providing clarity to all. This clarity — which is beyond compromise —is the Philippines' humble contribution to the international legal order," he added.
The Philippine leader temporarily shelved the award, which invalidated China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, at the start of his administration in 2016 to forge friendlier relations with the world's No. 2 economy and get investments and aid.
In May this year, he described it as a mere piece of paper that should be thrown in the waste basket.
China is not recognizing the award, and continues to aggressively assert its claims in the resource-rich waters, deploying hundreds of ships in parts covered by the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"A rules-based order is the lynchpin of regional peace and stability. The peaceful resolution of disputes is a necessary and indispensable pillar of any order anchored on the majesty of the law," Duterte said at the ASEAN-China Summit.
"We all have pledged to uphold the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, adhere to freedom of navigation and overflight, exercise self-restraint, and protect the marine environment as stipulated in UNCLOS," he added.
"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."
Meanwhile, Duterte acknowledged the role of the United States, which he had previously criticized for hitting some of his policies, in ensuring order in the South China Sea.
"I thank the United States for its strong support for the 2016 Arbitral Award. This landmark decision serves as a foundation for a rules-based order in the South China Sea," he said.
"The Philippines reaffirms the strategic importance of a peaceful and stable South China Sea where freedom of navigation is guaranteed," he added.
Without specifying any country or territory, Duterte urged "all stakeholders" to "exercise self-restraint to avoid untoward incidents that may further complicate the situation" in the disputed waters.
Aside from China and the Philippines, the following also have competing claims in the South China Sea: Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
On the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte credited the US and China for their help.
"We appreciate the US' generous offer of vaccines for the region, including the Philippines," he said.
"To succeed against the pandemic, we need to further strengthen bilateral, regional and international cooperation to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines," he added.
As countries strive to recover from the pandemic, Duterte said he hopes for a stronger ASEAN-US cooperation on human resources development, including on technical and vocational education and training.
Duterte said he is pleased with the adoption of the "ASEAN-US Statement on Digital Development" which, for him, will be useful in the human capital and infrastructure development in the region.
He thanked Beijing for its support to the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, and the Philippines' pandemic response.
"While some countries stockpiled life-saving vaccines, China quickly came to our aid demonstrating its commitment to make vaccines global public goods. And for this we are deeply grateful," Duterte said.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.