THE US NAVY’S top admiral said at a press conference at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters on Monday that the United States will continue “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea.
Also on Monday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Davao City to discuss matters of cooperation with his Philippine counterpart, newly appointed Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.
This is Mr. Wang’s second visit to the Philippines. His first visit last year also included Davao City, hometown of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his itinerary.
In Manila, US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in a press conference with AFP Chief Gen. Carlito G. Galvez: “I would say that we will continue…this program of freedom of navigation operations, and that is a worldwide program. So it’s important to consider, I think, that we did dozens of these operations around the world to indicate our position for sort of illegitimate claims.”
“Just as when we have been present here for the past seven decades we will continue to be present and continue to advocate for freedom of navigation through international waters, this is an important part of the global commons,” Mr. Richardson also said.
For his part, Mr. Galvez said, “I am glad to say that we had fruitful discussion about the AFP and US Navy,…about the modernization of the Philippine Navy, efforts toward continuous regional security, and stability and the future engagement opportunities with the US military.”
In Davao City, the top diplomats of the Philippines and China downplayed a possible non-legally binding Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea.
“Perhaps we will not be able to arrive at a legally binding CoC, but it will be the standard of how people of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), governments of ASEAN, will behave towards each other. On which we honor: Never in aggression, but always for the mutual profits,” the Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. said at a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart, Mr. Wang.
Mr. Locsin compared the CoC with the Global Compact on Migration, which he said is an agreement that is not legally binding, “but it is the standard of conduct for how civilized nations treat migrants.”
ASEAN members and China have already settled on a working draft of the CoC for further discussions.
For his part, Mr. Wang, in a translated statement, said, “Any document that we have signed, we will strictly abide by it and implement it.”
“We are very active, we are ready to work with other ASEAN countries to speed up CoC consultations. We also hope to conclude the consultations during the term of the Philippines as a country coordinator to China-ASEAN relations so that we can set up a set of regional norms to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea,” said the minister from China, which claims most of the strategic waters.
Other claimants besides the Philippines are Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, all ASEAN members.
“My second point about this is we have an open mind. China is open-minded about what specific content will be put into the text,” Mr. Wang added.
Mr. Wang was in town for a two-day visit, leading a Chinese delegation to discuss bilateral economic agreements with top Philippine officials, as well as other matters, including maritime cooperation.
Mr. Locsin said the visit “gives greater momentum to the ongoing engagement between Manila and Beijing,” and that talks on maritime cooperation are moving “in a positive direction.”
“While recognizing our differences and never compromising our respective core interests, we continue to discuss and explore avenues for maritime cooperation,” he said.
“We hold fast to our unwavering commitment to the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea. Through respectful dialogue with each other and with our partners in ASEAN, we are moving forward with astonishing amity in the negotiations toward a Code of Conduct,” Mr. Locsin added. — Marifi S. Jara in Davao City and Vince Angelo C. Ferreras in Manila