PH ‘pleased’ with Asean agreement
The Philippines is 'pleased' with Asean's 6-point agreement after the regional bloc failed to issue a traditional joint statement

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Southeast Asian nations have vowed to work towards a “code of conduct” in the disputed South China Sea, but failed to fully mend a rift that marred a regional meeting last week.

The Philippines said it was “pleased” with the outcome of the agreement Friday, July 20. 

Current chair Cambodia announced that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) had agreed on 6 principles on the sea, where tensions have flared recently with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Beijing of increasingly aggressive behaviour.

The statement – which also includes a commitment to respect international laws and the non-use of force to settle disputes – is an attempt to dispel perceptions that the 10-nation bloc is divided.

ASEAN AGREEMENT. The regional bloc agrees on 6 principles after failing to come up with a traditional joint statement. AFP photo/Tang Chhin Sothy

Divisions over the territorial disputes with Beijing prevented Asean from issuing its customary joint statement at the conclusion of a meeting in Phnom Penh on July 13, an unprecedented occurrence in the bloc’s 45-year history.

In an interview Friday, China said it is willing to cooperate with the Asean on the 6-point statement. 

“The Chinese side is willing to work together with the Asean members to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea comprehensively and effectively,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Hitting PH, Vietnam

But signs of discord remained as Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters Friday that the points were broadly similar to what was rejected by Vietnam and the Philippines last week, and blamed them for the earlier impasse.

“Why did two Asean countries absolutely oppose (it) and now they agree with it?” said Hor Namhong.

Diplomats had said a key sticking point previously was a refusal by Cambodia, a close China ally, to mention bilateral disputes in the sea, pitting it against Manila, which wanted a reference to a months-long standoff with Beijing over the Scarborough Shoal.

In an interview on Rappler’s Talk Thursday, Southeast Asian analyst Zachary Abuza said the Asean should censure Cambodia over last week’s incident. He said the regional bloc should “treat Cambodia and the Cambodian leadership as pariahs, as they should be treated.”

“Cambodia has proven that it is not only unfit to be a member of Asean, but certainly unfit to lead it,” Abuza said in an interview with Rappler executive editor and CEO Maria Ressa.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims in the area.

The 6-point agreement, which does not give details about specific incidents, follows intense diplomatic efforts by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who visited Hanoi and Manila on Wednesday followed by Phnom Penh.

Hor Namhong said the envoy had chosen Vietnam and the Philippines “because these two countries caused the problem that led to the failure of issuing a joint communique.” – with reports from Agence France-Presse


Related stories: