Philippines says China sea action plan gaining support

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines said Monday, August 4, it has won support from Vietnam, Indonesia, and Brunei for a plan to ease tensions in the South China Sea which it intends to present at a regional meeting this week.

China and several of its Southeast Asian neighbors are embroiled in increasingly bitter territorial disputes over the strategic sea which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.

Manila's plan calls for an immediate moratorium on activities which escalate tensions and implementation of a code of conduct in the sea, which is home to vital shipping routes and is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

The triple action plan (TAP), to be presented to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Myanmar this week, was raised during Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario's recent visits to Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said.

"He has taken trips (to these countries) precisely to raise the triple action plan and so far, all of these countries have expressed support for the initiative," Jose told reporters.

He said del Rosario and other Filipino delegates would try to raise the initiative at the various ASEAN discussions.

The Philippines, in particular, said its TAP should cover “specific” activities, and serve as a “more concrete definition” of a 2002 statement to maintain peace in the disputed waters.

“The Philippines hopes that the claimant states, other ASEAN countries, and the ASEAN dialogue partners will favorably consider this proposal as it is comprehensive, constructive, and brings together various initiatives that the Philippines and other countries have been advocating on the issue of the South China Sea for the past years,” the DFA said Friday, August 1.

ASEAN includes the Philippines as well as Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, along with non-members China and Taiwan, have conflicting claims to parts or all of the South China Sea.

Tensions have risen in recent years as China has become more aggressive in enforcing its claims. Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in contested waters in May triggered anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam and sent relations plummeting.

Manila's plan includes a call for implementation of a 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea and will also seek a settlement mechanism anchored on international law to resolve the disputes.

The Myanmar meetings will also involve talks between the ASEAN foreign ministers and counterparts from the bloc's main regional trading partners – China, Japan and South Korea.

There will also be a regional security dialogue involving 27 countries, including the ASEAN members, China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Russia, and Australia. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com