China hits planned ASEAN move vs reclamation

Paterno Esmaquel II
China hits planned ASEAN move vs reclamation
This comes as Philippine President Benigno Aquino III plans to raise China's reclamation activities as his 'main topic' at the upcoming ASEAN summit

MANILA, Philippines – China criticized Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines, that plan to bring up the South China Sea dispute in an upcoming regional summit.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday, April 20, stressed that the South China Sea dispute “is not an issue” between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“The Chinese side is always against the attempt of few countries to damage the friendly relationship of cooperation between China and ASEAN by making use of the South China Sea issue,” Hong said in a media briefing in China. 

“We are committed to working with ASEAN countries to fully implement the ‘dual-track approach’ in handling and addressing the South China Sea issue and jointly uphold peace and stability of the South China Sea,” he added.

Under the dual-track approach, China pushes for bilateral talks between China and claimant countries, and cooperation between China and ASEAN to resolve disputes in the South China Sea.

China rejects any third party in the sea dispute – which is why it refuses to participate in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, The Netherlands.

China’s statement came after the Philippines on Monday said it plans to raise China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea during the 26th ASEAN Summit from April 26 to 27.

Foreign Assistant Secretary Luis Cruz told reporters on Monday that the reclamation issue “will be the main topic” that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will raise during the summit.

Cruz added that the Philippines is aiming “for a collective statement, this time on the issue of the reclamation of some features in the South China Sea,” parts of which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea. 

China reacts to ‘Balikatan’

Cruz also referred to a statement by the Group of Seven or G7, the world’s 7 most industrialized countries, against China’s reclamation activities

“We are always hopeful that, like the G7 meeting, for example, they issued a very strong statement on this one,” he said.

The Philippines has protested China’s reclamation activities to build artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.

On Monday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) presented photos of China’s “massive reclamation activities” as of April 14.

AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said the reclamation activities will likely cut the Philippines’ access to part of the disputed sea.

On April 13, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said the artificial islands have destroyed 300 acres of coral reefs, and will lead to around $100 million in annual losses among coastal states.

While it has filed a historic arbitration case against China over the disputed waters, the Philippines also counts on allies such as the United States to curb China’s aggressive behavior.

One possible deterrent against China is the ongoing war games between the Philippines and the US, called the Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises. (READ: US to PH: War games ‘sharpening the sword and the bolo’ vs bullies

Sought for a reaction on the Balikatan war games, Hong said on Monday, “We have noted the relevant report and hope that relevant countries will do more to enhance security mutual trust among countries in the region and promote regional peace and stability.” – Rappler.com

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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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.