MANILA— Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Tuesday admitted that the negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea “went nowhere” even as he stressed the need for rules amid tensions in the disputed waters.
Speaking before the ASEAN-G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting in Liverpool, United Kingdom, Locsin said he was against “the exclusion of any outside power from the South China Sea, which encompasses the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, the West Philippine Sea.
A 2016 UN-backed ruling invalidated the Asian power's overwhelming claims in the disputed waters, but China has continued to disregard it and instead boosted its military presence and island-building in the area.
China wants to exclude non-regional powers like the United States from the talks, accusing the US of sowing discord in the South China Sea.
Beijing also previously warned against supposed interference being made by a “certain country outside the region” in the maritime disputes, saying it is crucial to resist such interference.
But Locsin had earlier stressed that a COC that does not exclude non-regional powers and that it indicates how conflicts can be avoided and resolved.
“These worrying developments underscore the urgency and importance of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. The Philippines, in its role as then Country Coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, is proud to have helped lead the process and build consensus,” Locsin said in the UK meeting.
“But negotiations for the Code of Conduct, even in our watch, went nowhere. I opposed the exclusion of any outside power from the South China Sea. That would create a semi-legal sphere of influence repugnant to the comity of all nations," he added.
Locsin expressed concern over recent incidents in the South China Sea, vowing “blowback from the Philippines” despite China's pronouncements.
“Recent incidents and the heightened tension in the South China Sea remain a serious concern. The Philippines fired diplomatic protests for every incursion and opposed application of China’s Coast Guard Law beyond the limits of its maritime entitlements under the 1982 UNCLOS,” Locsin said.
“China can claim what it wants and say what it wants but it cannot do anything it pleases without blowback from the Philippines.”
The ASEAN is a 10-member bloc composed of the Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The code of conduct was envisioned to upgrade the ASEAN and China's 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea by having a pact to manage tensions in the waters where different parties have separate claims.
ASEAN and China completed the first reading of the proposed code between 2018 and 2019. It had been planned that the code would be mapped out by 2021, but the pandemic hindered negotiations among parties
On Myanmar, Locsin expressed disappointment over the military regime’s refusal to give the ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy access to all stakeholders, saying the involvement of Aung Saan Suu Kyi and President Win Myint in the dialogue is “crucial.”
“Myanmar’s military authorities must demonstrate commitment to the Consensus by working with the Special Envoy,” Locsin said.
The “Five-Point Consensus” that was reached by the ASEAN Leaders in April following the coup d’etat 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.
Locsin said the Philippines stands by the outcomes of the October 15 Emergency ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (EAMM) where a decision was reached to invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to attend the ASEAN Summits and Related Summits held on October 26 to 28 this year.
The country's top diplomat also said the Emergency AMM was an opportunity for the ASEAN foreign ministers “to have a full and honest discussion on the matter."
“The decision was a reflection of ASEAN’s tradition of constructive dialogue, while safeguarding values important to ASEAN and which are enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, including the rule of law, good governance, and upholding of fundamental rights,” Locsin said.
“Despite Myanmar’s absence from the recent ASEAN Summit and related meetings, it continues to be part of ASEAN. The Philippines will continue working with ASEAN in its efforts to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the crisis," he added.
“In this time of the pandemic, the people of Myanmar should be protected from violence and harassment. We are one with ASEAN in working to provide the needed humanitarian assistance, foremost vaccination to the Burmese without exposing them to retaliation, detention after vaccination. We also welcome the support of our partners in this endeavor."