Thursday, January 22, 2015

PH to continue seeking 'constructive engagement' despite 'massive' Chinese reclamation in Spratlys

From InterAksyon (Jan 22): PH to continue seeking 'constructive engagement' despite 'massive' Chinese reclamation in Spratlys

File photo from March 2914 shows Chinese reclamation on Mabini Reef (DFA)

Despite the "massive reclamation" undertaken by China in contested areas in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines will continue working to restore good bilateral relations through "constructive engagement" and "mature diplomacy," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday.

Del Rosario told a media briefing he hopes the territorial dispute will be a central topic of the upcoming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations so member-countries of the regional bloc work together “for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea," which among other things seeks that no actions be undertaken that would raise tensions in the region.

He also said he hopes for the "early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC)," a rules-based document that would specify penalties for its violation.

The DFA chief said he is "consulting with international partners in the face of blatant violations of the DOC and UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas) for a more definitive response."

Del Rosario admitted the Philippines has "no new initiative" against the reclamation activities in Mabini, Gavin, and Calderon reefs except to reiterate its call for China to "cease (its) activities."

"We don't have anything new but wait for the result of the arbitration," he said.

"We are trying to see if we can normalize relations with Beijing in constructive engagement in accordance with discussions with Chinese government officials, including (former premier) Hu Jintao, so that contentious issues are treated separately from the positions taken on the South China Sea, as the South China Sea is not the sum total of our relations," he added.

The restoration of relations with China appears to be going slowly after the Scarborough incident in April 2012, when the boarding of Chinese fishing boats by the Philippine Navy triggered a lengthy standoff, as the level of engagement is still only at the director level and not at the vice-ministerial or ministerial level.

Nevertheless, Del Rosario said he does "not see as improbable" an engagement between the heads of state at the upcoming APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) meetings that the Philippines is hosting later this year.

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