Cayetano admits PHL opposed tough language in stance on South China Sea, but ASEAN works on “centrality”

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By Mario M. Banzon

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano admitted on Tuesday that the Philippines was one of the nations that opposed the inclusion of tough language against China, particularly the mention of “militarization”, in the joint communiqué of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the disputed South China Sea.

In a press briefing yesterday evening at the end of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila, Mr. Cayetano said the debated wordings would not have been reflective of the current situation.

“I did not want to include it… They (China) are not reclaiming land anymore. There are reclamations in the past,” he said.

The final joint communique — released late Sunday evening, a day later than originally scheduled — did emphasize the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the disputed waters.

Mr. Cayetano explained that ASEAN, at the end of the day, works on “centrality”.

“The beauty of centrality is the voting should be 10 to 0,” he said, adding that the joint communiqué is a negotiated document wherein drafts upon drafts are produced until the 10 member nations reach an agreement.

“There are also a lot of gossip about it when we were talking to foreign ministers… I believe the joint communiqué is a balanced one. It articulates as close as possible how ASEAN as a whole or how some of the members feel. It’s a testament to our centrality,” he said.

Mr. Cayetano also took issue on reports that the Philippines is giving in to China’s demands.

“Why is it viewed that we’re giving in to China… This isn’t a battle. This is not a competition… Our policy is friends to all and enemy to none. So if you want to take us to take that attitude to China… do you want us to have aggressive attitude against Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei? … The framing is wrong,” Mr. Cayetano said.

China asserts sweeping claims over the strategic waters, parts of which are also claimed by Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

The six other ASEAN members are Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Myanmar Singapore, Thailand.