President Benigno S. Aquino III urged members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to continue playing a positive role in resolving territorial conflicts in the region.
In his intervention during the 26th ASEAN Leaders’ Retreat at the Langkawi International Convention Center, President Aquino underscored the importance of promoting regional peace and stability with a "security architecture built on the primacy of the rule of law".
This is in relation to China’s illegal expansion in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is causing major environmental damage, and affecting the livelihood and food security of people living in the area’s coastal states.
The loss and damage of hundreds of acres of coral reefs in the Spratly islands alone are estimated to cost the fisheries sectors in the littoral states at least US$100 million per year, President Aquino told his ASEAN counterparts.
The Philippines has opted to maintain a diplomatic approach in handling the issue but needs strong backing from the ASEAN as China has kept on refusing to participate in a rules-based dispute settlement through international arbitration.
“For many years, ASEAN has tried to fully implement the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or DOC and to negotiate a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea or COC,” President Aquino said.
“Unfortunately, the massive reclamation activities in the area undermine the relevance of both the DOC and of any eventual COC. This is a challenge to ASEAN centrality and to our capacity to shape the future of our own region," he added.
"ASEAN as a whole must continue to play a positive role in resolving this regional problem, which is multilateral in nature and therefore not resolvable through purely bilateral solutions,” President Aquino said.
He stressed that it is incumbent upon all ASEAN member states to "collectively speak with one voice" on this issue.
“All our efforts at regional community-building aim to promote and protect the future well-being of our peoples, and this can only be done in a secure and stable environment. If we continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder, I am confident our vision of an integrated ASEAN Community that is people-oriented, people-centered, and people-driven, is within reach,” the President said.
President Aquino travelled to this archipelagic Malaysian island from Kuala Lumpur on Monday afternoon for the continuation of the 26th ASEAN Summit.
He is scheduled to attend the 11th Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area Summit here Tuesday before heading back to Manila. (PCOO News Release)