Something wrong happened in Vientiane, Laos, at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting. This was the first big ASEAN gathering that took place after the Philippines won its case versus China before the international arbitral tribunal—which ruled against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.
When the foreign ministers issued their 31-page joint communiqué on July 24, not a line was devoted to the historic ruling, not even a mere mention in the 8 paragraphs under the sub-heading, “South China Sea.”
While the Philippine tack is not to “flaunt” our victory, as President Duterte has said, it is vital to gain international support, especially among neighboring coastal states, so that pressure builds on China to abide by the ruling. (China has refused to participate in the arbitration case and has said it will ignore the ruling.)
Our foreign affairs department, in fact, announced in a statement that Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr urged the 10-member ASEAN to support the decision, “without taking sides”, as this will reflect ASEAN’s “respect for a rules-based order.”
It turns out that Yasay, the country’s top diplomat, didn’t strongly push the country’s official position.
Two things thus converged in Laos, causing the loud silence on the Hague ruling:
- Cambodia, the ASEAN country closest to China, blocked efforts to include the arbitral tribunal ruling in the joint communiqué; and
- Yasay made it easy for Cambodia as he withdrew his request for a mention of the ruling. Cambodia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Chum Sounry, said, “The Filipino foreign minister himself decided to remove (it) and not to mention the ruling.”
How can Cambodia, which is beholden to China, and Yasay end up on the same side in this campaign to uphold the rule of law, one that contributes to regional stability?
Then, it started to unravel for Yasay.
Forgetting the country’s official position, he told reporters covering the ASEAN meeting that the Philippines “never” pitched the inclusion of the arbitral ruling because “the other countries are not part of our filing of the case…”
In Manila, confronted with this statement, Yasay was adamant. He said he “never said those things” and that he “vigorously…pushed for the inclusion and mentioning of the arbitral tribunal award.”
The recordings speak for themselves. Listen to Yasay’s conflicting statements here. Clearly, he tries to cover his tracks and save face.
We find it disturbing that the foreign secretary does not have what it takes to protect the country’s national interest and stand firm. What he has done in Laos is a disservice to the country. – Rappler.com