PH eyes ‘moratorium’ on South China Sea tensions

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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'I think we would use the international community to step up,' Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario says in the face of China's 'expansion agenda'

CHALLENGING CHINA. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, answers questions during a media interview in Manila, Philippines on June 5, 2014. Photo by Ritchie Tongo/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – Taking up an American diplomat’s suggestion, the Philippines will propose a “moratorium” on moves that worsen tensions in the disputed South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Monday, June 16.

In an interview on ANC’s Headstart, Del Rosario said the Philippines wants to formally propose this “within the year” to ease tensions in the disputed waters, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

He said the moratorium should involve the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly the South China Sea’s claimant states, as the region works on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

The legally-binding COC is seen to replace the non-binding, 12-year-old Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

“We ought to maybe consider getting together and saying, ‘Let’s freeze all activities which escalate tension,’” Del Rosario said.

He added: “Let’s call for a moratorium in terms of activities that escalate tension. Let’s do that while we work on an expeditious conclusion of the COC and effective and full implementation of the COC…. I would like to initiate it, and I think it’s a reasonable approach.”

US diplomat: ‘Voluntary freeze’

It was unclear from the interview, however, how the proposed moratorium will differ from the DOC.

The DOC already states the claimant states should “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

In its diplomatic protests, the Philippines claims China disregards this DOC.

Del Rosario said the moratorium is based on the suggestion of Danny Russel, the top US diplomat on East Asia.

In an interview with reporters on June 11, Russel explained: “The claimant states themselves could identify the kind of behavior that they each find provocative when others do it, and offer to put a voluntary freeze on those sorts of actions on the condition that all the other claimants would agree to do so similarly.”

Agreeing with Russel, Del Rosario explained that settling a maritime dispute, after all, involves two elements – managing tension and resolving the dispute itself.

World ‘has a stake in this’

“I think we would use the international community to step up and to say that we need to manage the tensions in the South China Sea before it gets out of hand,” he said.

The international community, he pointed out, “has a stake in this” because it has to do with freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. (READ: Vietnam to Philippines: United, we will win)

He said the Philippines could bring up the moratorium in the special ASEAN ministerial-level meeting proposed by Indonesia, if it pushes through.

“If that meeting materializes, and we hope it will, and we’re supporting it, we hope to bring it up there,” Del Rosario said.

He also thanked Indonesia for proposing this because peace and stability in the region “must be a shared responsibility.”

Del Rosario’s statements came as the Philippines filed on Friday, June 13, another protest against China for its reclamation activities on a disputed reef in the West Philippine Sea.

He has criticized these reclamation activities as part of China’s “expansion agenda” that hinder peace and stability in the disputed sea. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

 

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.