Manila urges stronger action on China

Manila urges stronger action on China
A photograph dated Feb 25 last year of the Johnson South Reef, claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, which appeared to show large-scale reclamation done by China. According to the Philippines, China was reclaiming land on the disputed reef in the South China Sea in an apparent effort to build an airstrip.

The Philippines has urged ASEAN members to push for international condemnation of China's land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, in a departure from the regional grouping's softer stance.

The 10-member grouping and China have been involved in negotiations to reach a Code of Conduct (COC) governing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Manila said Beijing is reclaiming land and building an island to stake its claims over almost all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim parts of the sea.

As ASEAN foreign ministers ended their retreat here yesterday, Thailand, the country coordinator for China, was tasked to arrange more meetings with the Chinese on the long-delayed code.

Since ASEAN and China signed a Declaration of Conduct in 2002, only eight high-level Senior Officials Meetings have been held to negotiate the code, which will govern the behaviour of members in resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

Beijing, meanwhile, started several reclamation projects in waters claimed by Manila. Last year, it deployed a large oil-drilling rig less than 200km off Vietnam's coast, sparking riots in Hanoi.

Yesterday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said inaction on the massive land reclamation developments by China would undermine ASEAN "since we are unable to address in a unified and collective way such a critical issue in our own backyard".

Mr del Rosario urged ASEAN to reach out to "the responsible international community to say to China that what it is doing is wrong", according to a statement from his ministry.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman appeared to douse hopes of such a move, telling a post-retreat press conference that "during our chairmanship, we intend to solve problems through moderation".

Mr K. Shanmugam, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, told reporters "a number of countries raised the issue very strongly" and complained that "the COC was a little muted compared with the way in which land reclamation was being carried out". Singapore takes over as China coordinator in August.

The Philippines filed for international arbitration in 2013 but failed to gain wide support in ASEAN. China has insisted its reclamation works are "totally justifiable" as it has sovereignty in the area, raising questions over its commitment to the COC.

An Indonesian official told reporters prior to the ministers' retreat that while China is to host the next COC talks, it has yet to confirm a date.

While Mr Shanmugam insisted that China is serious about wanting peace and stability in the waters, he admitted that "it is for us to convince China that the COC is part and parcel of that process".

This article was first published on Jan 29, 2015.
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