Manila pitches Spratly solution to ASEAN experts

Posted on September 23, 2011

THE PHILIPPINES yesterday pitched before legal experts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) a “more binding and meaningful solution” in handling territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it lobbies for regional support to the proposal.

In his keynote speech in the opening of the two-day ASEAN Maritime Legal Experts Meeting in Manila, Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay said a “rules-based approach” will lead to a “more binding and meaningful solution” to the disputes in the resource-rich area, which Manila prefers to call West Philippine Sea.

Rich in biodiversity and abundant in oil and gas deposits, the area is also claimed by Brunei Darussalam, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Beijing has recently been aggressive in its claim over portions of the Spratlys.

Mr. Binay noted that while the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC-SCS) -- signed in 2002 and its implementing guidelines signed earlier this year -- have helped to restrain tension in the region, a “more binding and meaningful solution” based on international law should be adhered to by claimant countries.

He then outlined five principles of an ideal rules-based approach policy in the West Philippine Sea, namely:

• adherence of all parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);

• commitment of all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means under international law;

• the need for a multilateral approach to conflict resolution;

• the full implementation of the DOC-SCS; and

• an actionable framework for the implementation of the DOC-SCS.

In addition, Mr. Binay highlighted the Philippine proposal for cooperation in the South China Sea -- the ASEAN-China Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation (ZoPFFC) -- which will delineate disputed from non-disputed areas.

“By doing so, the gridlock that has prevented the parties from moving with speed on joint cooperation in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea would be completely unblocked,” he said.

The ZoPFFC, first presented by the Philippines at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting earlier this year, will be among the proposals to be discussed at the two-day summit attended by diplomats and maritime legal experts.

Findings of the meeting will be reported to the Senior Officials Meeting, which will then send recommendations to Foreign Ministers before the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali this November. ASEAN groups Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. -- NRM