VP HARRIS, ASEAN SEEK END TO S. CHINA SEA ROW; As PHL, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Taiwan alarmed at China’s new map


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JAKARTA/WASHINGTON/MANILA – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has gone ballistic once more, this time during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta, Indonesia as he assailed the “alarming” illegal activities like “militarization and dangerous maneuvers” in South China Sea.

Although Marcos did not identify the country involved, reports were clear that some ASEAN members and the international community have repeatedly criticized China for illegally building air strips and military bases in maritime features such as reclaimed islets and shoals which are within other countries’ exclusive economic zones, including those of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. (See related stories)

This as United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Marcos held bilateral talks in Jakarta which the White House stated was a buildup on President Joe Biden and Harris’ bilateral meetings with Marcos in Washington in May 2023 and the Vice President’s visit to Palawan and the Philippines in November 2022. 

Aside from Harris, other world leaders also attended the ASEAN summit like Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet, Lao PDR Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Bangladesh President Mohammed Shahabuddin, Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and Thai permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Sarun Charoensuwan, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Cook Island Prime Minister Mark Brown, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio,  Russian Federation Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, and Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol..

Although details of the Harris-Marcos talks were not yet made public, the White House stated in a readout: “The two leaders discussed the maritime security environment in the South China Sea, and reviewed opportunities to enhance bilateral maritime cooperation, including alongside likeminded partners.”

In another meeting, VP Harris and Indonesian President Joko Widodo reviewed the importance of upholding international law and freedom of the seas in the South China Sea, according to the White House.

Marcos’ position was made following Beijing’s aggressive expansionist claims when it released a new China map indicating its expanded 10-dash line claims of almost all of the entire South China Sea and which now extends up to the borders of Russia and India. The new map  has 10 dashes that appear to the east of Taiwan and extends into the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and India immediately rejected China’s newly released map asserting sovereignty over the South China Sea, some of them lodging official protests.

Marcos said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “must never allow the international peaceful order to be subjected to the forces of might, applied for a hegemonic ambition” in the South China Sea. 

While he did not directly mention China in his speech during the Retreat Session in the 43rd ASEAN Summit, the President called out nations that were peddling “misleading narratives“ in the South China Sea.

“The Philippines firmly rejects misleading narratives that frame the disputes in the South China Sea solely through the lens of strategic competition between two powerful countries,” Marcos Jr. said.

“This not only denies us of our independence and our agency, but it also disregards our own legitimate interests,” he said.

 “We must emphasize that practical cooperation in the maritime domain can only flourish with an enabling environment of regional peace, security, and stability, anchored in international law,” Marcos said in his intervention at the said summit.

“The Philippines therefore continues to uphold the primacy of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the framework within which all activities in the seas and oceans are conducted. We once again reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes,” he added.

During its summit, the ASEAN itself raised concerns over “serious incidents” in the South China Sea that it said have “put the safety of all persons at risk” and caused “damage to marine environment,” stressing that these have “increased tensions, an may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region.”

“We discussed the situation in the South China Sea, during which concerns were expressed by some ASEAN Member States on the land reclamations, activities, serious incidents in the area, including actions that put the safety of all persons at risk, damage to the marine environment, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region,” the summit chairman,  Indonesian President Joko Widodo, said in a statement.

“We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea and recognized the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity,” the statement added.

“We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states,” it was pointed out.

There is a need to “enhance mutual trust and confidence” and to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation,” the regional bloc said.

“We further looked forward to the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC that is in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS,” it added.