Situation in South China Sea ‘peaceful and stable’

BEIJING (January 15) – Despite the tensions, member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have declared that last year’s situation in South China Sea was generally “peaceful and stable” as countries involved held their meeting here on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea.

The Saturday meeting also pushed for the creation of the committees on maritime scientific research, environmental protection, security and rescue, and on the crackdown on cross-border crimes, and to better utilize the China-ASEAN fund on maritime cooperation, a press statement posted in the Foreign Ministry’s website said.

It did not provide details as to what was further agreed to advance the solution in the overlapping claims at Spratly Islands, which was proven to have oil reserve of seven billion barrels as well as 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but said there was a series of consensus that were reached.

The press release described the meeting of the senior officials of ASEAN and China as “in-depth” and there was “candid exchange.”

Among the consensus are for the parties to “speed up specific cooperation projects, and to host seminars on maritime disaster-relief, environment, rescue and biology research.”

The meeting started last Friday and will end today (Sunday). It is not clear though if the meeting will issue a statement.

The meeting came just several days after the Philippines again accused China of intruding into its territorial waters amid a continuing disagreement in what Manila prefers to call the West Philippines Sea. Beijing has denied the charge.

Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said that Beijing is hoping to fully implement the guidelines of the decade-old document. The three-day meeting is expected to result in a positive step to formally follow the guidelines that ASEAN and China have inked in July.

“China will seize this opportunity of making joint efforts with ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and bring benefits to the people in the region,” Mr. Liu said.

On Sunday, Philippine foreign affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, who attended the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Retreat at Siem Reap, Cambodia, released a statement reiterating the Philippines stand over its territorial rights in the disputed areas and pushed for a rule-based approach to find solution to the disputes.

“This rules-based approach under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) also calls for the resolution of disputes through peaceful means. For this reason, the Philippines proposed to ASEAN the Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship, and Cooperation as the actionable framework to clarify and segregate the disputed land features from the non-disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea, and in the process, address the issue of the 9-dash line. Alternatively, the Philippines has stated that it is considering third party adjudication, arbitration or conciliation, as appropriate, in the context of the dispute settlement mechanism of UNCLOS,” he said.

Del Rosario said another possible solution is for the claimants to establish a joint cooperation area within the defined non-disputed and the disputed areas.

He also urged the ASEAN leadership to aggressively “play a positive and meaningful role to solve the disputes peacefully in accordance with the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and reach a stage whereby we are able to help resolve sensitive issues decisively without letting such issues fester and adversely affect the progress of our bilateral or multilateral relations.” (Darwin Wally T. Wee / MindaNews)