Peace in SCS won’t come at PHL’s expense–Locsin


FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. has welcomed support for the 2016 Arbitral Award and reaffirmed the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the legal framework within which all the activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out. He made the statement at the recent East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held via video conference.

“The Philippines aspires for the South China Sea to remain a sea of peace, security, stability, and prosperity. But it will never pay for that with its national honor or a square inch of territory or a drop of water that is its own,” Manila’s top diplomat said.

At the EAS meeting, Locsin highlighted Philippine priorities in relation to pressing security challenges in the region, including addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and making vaccines a global public good, combating the climate crisis, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in line with the Asean Outlook, and implementing the Five-Point Consensus to address the situation in Myanmar.

When he turned over the Philippines’s role to country coordinator in the Asean-China forum to Myanmar—also last week—Locsin had prodded China to use its goodwill with Myanmar in restoring the situation there to the pre-February coup status, or before the junta ousted elected civilian leaders and detained many of them, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

On the South China Sea, Locsin told the EAS, on the other hand, that the arbitral award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration—which marked its fifth anniversary in July—“conclusively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea.”

He said the award declared as without legal effect claims that exceed geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS.

“So, it did not throw historic claims out the window; it discriminated among them. It dashed among others a nine-dash line; and any expectation that possession is 9/10ths of the law.”

Although China did not participate in the arbitration and has ignored the ruling, Locsin said the ruling is “a contribution of great significance and consequence to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea and to the peace and stability of the region at large.”

The Asian giant has continued to press its expansive claims in the South China Sea and over the years has turned seven undersea features into islands, making them military bastions—complete with runways, barracks, and missile installations.

In his statement posted on the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) website, Locsin noted that the Philippines, “as a law-abiding, peace-loving and responsible member of the international community, reaffirms on this occasion its adherence to the award and its enforcement without any possibility of compromise or change.”

The anniversary of the PCA ruling came in the wake of the reported military exercises conducted by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea, particularly in waters off Paracel Islands from July 1 to 5.

Despite this, the Philippines and China continue to cooperate in many areas, and are considering a possible strategy for joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) for the exploitation of gas and oil deposits.

China is also one of the first countries to provide the Philippines with personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other medical aid at the onset of Covid-19 in 2020, aside from donating millions of doses of Sinovac vaccines.

EAS Foreign Ministers expressed their initiatives to aid the region in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, exchanged views on regional and international issues in the region, reiterated their pledges to the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund, and shared updates on their initiatives to assist the region in combatting the pandemic.

Also discussed was Australia’s AUS$523 million worth of  vaccine and health security assistance, of which US$300 million  is allocated for Southeast Asia; Japan’s US$ 1-billion contribution to COVAX; Russia’s provision of Sputnik V vaccines to Asia Pacific countries; and US’s contribution of  23 million doses and more than $158 million in emergency health and humanitarian assistance to Asean member states.

The EAS is composed of the 10 Asean Member States and the Plus Eight (+8) East Asia Participating Countries: Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States of America. It is a forum for dialogue on broad strategic, political, and economic issues of common interest. The 16th East Asia Summit, to be attended by the Leaders, will be held in October this year.

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