NONTHABURI, Thailand—The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must tackle the South China Sea issue to remain relevant as the dispute continues to create regional uncertainty and instability, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte said on Saturday.
The President expressed the Philippines’ readiness to work with its partners for the immediate conclusion of a binding code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea necessary to maintain peace and stability.
In his intervention during the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plenary here, President Duterte said the issue must be solved peacefully in accordance with international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The country’s victory with its arbitral case with China strengthened this position, he said, stressing there is no other way for claimants except the path to peace.
“As ASEAN-China Country Coordinator, the Philippines will do its utmost part to conclude negotiations on a Code of Conduct as soon as possible,” he said.
“Notwithstanding the lack of enthusiasm by some external partners, I believe that we in ASEAN are one in the view that an effective and substantive COC will be good for the region.”
But in order to succeed, the ASEAN must maintain an environment conducive to negotiations and fair compromises, he noted.
“ASEAN must therefore remain united. We must lead the way in building trust and confidence among all stakeholders. And we must use all the influence that we have, individually and collectively, to persuade parties to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.”
Aside from addressing territorial dispute, the President underscored the need to deal with the challenges to ASEAN’s centrality in regional affairs.
With the rise of a new major power, President Duterte said the regional landscape is also changing fast and creates question on the ASEAN’s ability to hold to its centrality in an environment of heightened competition.
Countries must not take sides to avoid being embroiled in a geopolitical game, he added.
The Philippines, under President Duterte, has adopted an independent foreign policy by forging new ties with its non-traditional partners.
The Philippines firmly supports an open, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture, the President said, stressing that isolating anyone and forcing countries to choose sides is a dangerous game to play.
It drags countries into a vicious cycle of power balancing and security dilemmas and undo hard-won gains of peace and development for their people. The ASEAN, he said, must not allow this to happen.
The ASEAN has already come so far, the Chief Executive said, as he encouraged ASEAN member states to rise to the challenge bearing in mind their shared destiny as one community.
“Let us build on the achievements of the past and make ASEAN even stronger to face the challenges of the present,” he said.
President Duterte arrived in Thailand Friday to participate in the 35th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits from November 2 to 4. PND