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Indonesia suggests Philippine-Asean synergy on S. China Sea

Publication Date : 25-02-2014


Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has suggested that the Philippines “synergise” its efforts to deal with a territorial dispute in the South China Sea with the diplomatic channel set up within the Asean framework.

Marty made the comment when asked by journalists about Manila’s recent move to bring its territorial dispute with China over sections of the South China Sea to a the United Nations arbitration tribunal. Beijing has refused to be part of the process.

“We have just renewed our commitment that territorial disputes in the South China Sea, or what the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea, be resolved through peaceful, diplomatic means, or in the case of the Philippines, through the tribunal processes that they have engaged in,” Marty said after meeting with the Philippines Foreign Secretary, Albert F. del Rosario, in Jakarta on Monday.

“Whatever the choice of avenue, the most important point is that this must be resolved by peaceful means not by others that are not peaceful,” he added. “What I have highlighted is that legal efforts and political diplomacy must be synergized. We don’t want to see one as counterproductive to the other.”

But Marty balked when asked if the legal efforts carried out by Manila could hinder Asean's diplomatic push to craft a binding code of conduct with China.

Marty said his discussions with Del Rosario on the issue were extensive.

“I also conveyed the outcome of the discussions on the issue I have had during my recent meetings with various foreign ministers, such as those of the US, China and Japan,” Marty said.

They continued discussion on the issue during a working dinner held later on Monday.

The top diplomats, however, did not disclose details of that discussion and Del Rosario was not available to answer questions from reporters.

“The code of conduct will only be relevant if it is timely, otherwise the situation will render it redundant. We must work to ensure that it becomes reality sooner rather than later,” Marty said.

He added that they did not discuss a recent incident, in which Manila claimed the Chinese military had attacked a Philippine fishermen.

The Philippines’ military chief, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, on Monday accused China’s coast guard of firing a water cannon at Filipino fishermen to drive them away from a disputed sea shoal, according to the AFP.

He said the incident occurred on January 27 near the Scarborough Shoal — the focus of a bitter territorial row in the strategically important South China Sea.

He did not say if anyone was hurt and added that China continued to float an armed coast guard and other vessels at the shoal.

“We continue to give primacy to its [the dispute’s] peaceful resolution principally through international arbitration,” Bautista said.

“All our actions are in support of that. We remain hopeful that the issue can be resolved peacefully and result in peace and stability in the region.”

He added that “our resolve to perform our mandate as protectors of the people and the state and of our national territory” had not been weakened.

“We will continue to perform that mandate with whatever we’ve got,” he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not directly address the allegation when asked about it on Monday.

“I would like to re-emphasise that China has indisputable sovereignty over relevant waters and China’s maritime surveillance fleet is carrying out routine patrols in relevant waters,” she told reporters in Beijing.

The Scarborough Shoal lies 220 kilometres from the main Philippine island of Luzon. It is about 650km from Hainan Island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.

In April 2012, the Philippines and China had a tense standoff that ended with the former retreating from the shoal — a rich fishing area.

Manila claims Beijing has effectively gained control of the shoal, while China says the shoal is part of its historical claim to most of the South China Sea, including waters near the coasts of its neighbours.

The Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam all have competing claims to parts of the sea, and the rivalries have been a source of tension for decades.


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