PH weighs proposed ASEAN meet on South China Sea

Paterno Esmaquel II
(UPDATED) The special meeting proposed by Indonesia is expected to 'send a strong signal to China'

FOREIGN MINISTERS. In January, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario (first from left) and his ASEAN counterparts meet in Bagan, Myanmar for the first time in 2014. File photo by AFP

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines confirmed on Monday, June 9, that Indonesia has proposed a special meeting among foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss rising tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

“Yes, there is such a proposal,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose told Rappler.

When asked how open the Philippines is to Indonesia’s proposal, Jose said, “The Philippines, in principle, supports any initiative that reaffirms ASEAN centrality in dealing with regional security issues and concerns.”

On Tuesday, June 10, when asked if the Philippines is categorically backing the proposed meeting, Jose added that the Philippines “is open to the proposal which is currently being discussed.” “We go along with the consensus,” he said.

Japanese network Kyodo News reported the proposed meeting on Thursday, June 5.

Quoting a Filipino diplomat who refused to be named, Kyodo News reported that Indonesia has proposed “a special ASEAN ministerial-level meeting that will primarily focus on the South China Sea issue.”

The proposal was reportedly made by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

The proposed meeting – the date and venue of which remain under consultation – “has to be before the scheduled ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in August,” the Filipino diplomat told Kyodo News.

“The Philippines favors the proposal, saying the meeting will send a strong signal to China that ASEAN is very much concerned about China’s growing assertiveness, according to the diplomat,” Kyodo News reported.

Increasing concern

Natalegawa made the proposal as Southeast Asian countries become increasingly concerned over China’s aggression in the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam have begun to “strengthen [their] friendship” to ease tension in the South China Sea.

On Sunday, June 8, Filipino and Vietnamese troops played volleyball and football in a contested South China Sea archipelago – a landmark act of sports diplomacy that both sides said could ease territorial tensions.

On Thursday, June 5, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters that Vietnam is reviewing its options in settling the South China Sea dispute.

These options include a possible arbitration case like the one filed by the Philippines.

No to ‘military solution’

China, for its part, has consistently rejected multilateral or third-party involvement in South China Sea disputes, and has insisted on bilateral or one-on-one talks with the countries involved.

For instance, China recently rejected the deadline set by an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration for it to respond to Manila’s pleading in its historic case against Beijing.

In the case of Vietnam, China accused the Southeast Asian country of provoking it first. The Asian giant in fact said Vietnam rammed its ships more than 1,400 times in the South China Sea.

Against this backdrop, Natalegawa said Indonesia rejects a “military solution” to South China Sea disputes. (Watch more in the video below)

“That is why we have to promote peaceful settlement of disputes. It could be diplomacy, it could be negotiations, it could be legal processes. Anything as long as it is not the use of force. And I think our region must recognize that we’ve all been beneficiaries to the peace that we have long enjoyed,” Natalegawa told Rappler’s Maria Ressa. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at