PH admits not pushing ASEAN to hit China island building

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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PH admits not pushing ASEAN to hit China island building
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano says he 'didn't want to include' China's aggressive behavior in the ASEAN foreign ministers' joint statement

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines admitted on Tuesday evening, August 8, that it did not push the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to include China’s island building activities in their recently issued statement. 

In a press conference, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano was asked if the Philippines was one of the countries that initially refused to cite China’s land reclamation activities and militarization in their joint communiqué.

“Yes. We drafted it,” Cayetano said at the end of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings hosted by the Philippines. 

The Philippines took this position even as it chairs ASEAN this year – and despite winning a case against China over the South China Sea. 

In a joint communiqué issued Sunday, August 6, ASEAN cited criticism of China’s island building activities and also urged the “non-militarization” of the South China Sea.

Southeast Asian diplomats recalled, in various media interviews, that earlier drafts of the ASEAN statement excluded China’s island building and militarization in the South China Sea. 

Cambodia had reportedly resisted mentioning China’s land reclamation in the statement, but Vietnam wanted tough language.

Cayetano said he himself “didn’t want to include” China’s aggressive behavior in the joint communiqué. 

Echoing China

The Philippine Foreign Secretary explained: “It’s not reflective of the present position. They’re not reclaiming land anymore, so why will you put it again this year?”

Cayetano echoed the views of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China “had already completed the reclamation” two years ago, so ASEAN was not possibly referring to China. 

On militarization, Cayetano pointed out that there was militarization in the South China Sea, “but there’s also militarization outside.” He said that “every country has the right to defend itself.” 

Cayetano said that he eventually conceded, however, to majority of ASEAN foreign ministers. 

He recalled telling his staff that “it doesn’t matter” what they put in the initial draft. He said what matters is that the final statement “reflects what the majority wants.”

Cayetano said if he had insisted to exclude reclamation and militarization from the ASEAN statement, “there’s a possibility we won’t have a joint communiqué.”

A former senator, Cayetano said: “Politicians and diplomats are so different because politicians – and I can speak for politicians being a politician for 25 years – use the microphone. And they try to gain the support for their stand.”

“The problem is, the window for negotiation closes. Diplomats are different. We try to keep quiet, we try to talk less, so that the area for negotiation and the windows and doors are more widely opened,” the Philippines’ top diplomat added. –

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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