By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to take immediate action and champion diplomatic initiatives within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), amid escalating Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“The ASEAN should stand together against China’s bullying. We should put our differences aside and work towards the common goal of opposing unfounded and over-ambitious Chinese territorial claims in the region. The ASEAN should be able to compel China to reach a consensus on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea,” Hontiveros said.
“If ASEAN does not adopt a common stand on the South China Sea, we cannot safeguard our shared interests. Southeast Asia on its own should also still take a common stand through a dialogue within the member states for the first round of talks. Then engage China in the framework of and towards an ASEAN-China Code of Conduct. We have repeatedly called on China to respect our seas, our sovereignty, and our people, but these have fallen on deaf ears. Ayaw makinig ng Tsina, ayaw din sumunod sa batas, kaya dapat magkaisa ang ASEAN kung paano harapin ang Tsina,” the senator added.
During the 37th ASEAN Summit, ASEAN’s current chair, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, publicly stated that the Southeast Asian bloc would maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea by respecting and observing international law, and by settling disputes through peaceful means.
“Disputes should be resolved through dialogue within the framework of the existing international rules-based order. Within ASEAN, it is clear that the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should govern the conduct of competing claimants in the South China Sea. A commitment to multilateralism and a respect for international law has always avowedly been the ASEAN way. In contrast, the current strategy being pursued by the Chinese government is to use its economic and military dominance to impose its will upon the region and make its outrageous and excessive territorial claims a fait accompli,” Hontiveros said.
“The Chinese government’s greed for territory and power has led to the unilateral and aggressive expansion of the military outposts on its artificial islands as well as the intrusion of its maritime militia into our Exclusive Economic Zone — actions that are in blatant violation of the UNCLOS. Kaya palakasin pa natin ang ating relasyon sa ASEAN at magkaisa tayo sa pagtindig,” she said.
Hontiveros said that escalating Chinese aggression in disputed waters has made a stronger alliance with ASEAN member states of paramount importance. She then expressed alarm over the swarm of Chinese vessels in the WPS, including the presence of three advanced naval vessels in Panganiban Reef, which forms part of the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf.
According to a news report, the three vessels are Type 022 stealth missile fast attack craft of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. Global Times, a tabloid owned by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, described the Type 022 as “fast, flexible, stealthy, and powerful.”
“Walang preno ang pananalakay ng Tsina. Kailan lang, may ‘fishing vessels’ sila sa Julian Felipe Reef; ngayon, may war vessels pa sa Panganiban Reef. It is infuriating that China is taking advantage of a global crisis to consolidate its territorial claims in the region by parking its military vessels within our EEZ. A People’s Liberation Navy ship even aimed its gun control director toward the BRP Conrado Yap last year. Hindi lang sila ‘business-as-usual’ sa gitna ng pandemya, nambabanta-as-usual pa,” Hontiveros said.
“The DFA should work with the Department of National Defense as we talk to our partners within ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region. An ASEAN coalition is, perhaps, the best way of assuring our territorial integrity, mutual security, and continued peace. China has committed itself to a strategy based on its individual strength. But we, in the Philippines, with the help of the entire ASEAN, should resist. Sama-sama, matitigil din natin ang pangaabuso at pangangahas ng Tsina,” Hontiveros concluded. (AI/MTVN)