China Woos ASEAN to Resolve Disputed Sea Without Outsiders

ASEAN flags

Published Jul 30, 2017 12:35 AM by Noel Tarrazona

The Chinese government has called on Southeast Asian countries to prevent non-Asian countries from intervening in the resolution of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Manila last week to discuss the framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea between and among ASEAN nations. China has claimed ownership of a large part of the South China Sea  despite the Hague’s Arbitration Court having denied its sovereign claim.

Wang announced through an Chinese-English interpreter that “external players do not want to see stability in the region. Thus, we need to stand together and say 'no' to them.”

Telling his country that he is not ready for war with China, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) last week that the Philippines and China will start joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea. Many of his advisers believe this is the best option for easing diplomatic tensions between the two Asian neighbors.

Wang welcomed the development for the joint exploration of the South China Sea and said the partnership will involve much consultation so that “we could come up with a common goal or agreement.”

However, Wang also warned that while China is open to the idea of joint exploration, they are against “unilateral development” conducted by other claimant countries in the South China Sea.

“If one party goes unilateral development and the other party takes the same action, that might lead to tensions and the end result nobody will be able to develop the resources,” Wang was quoted saying by Asian journalists.

Wang said that whenever there are disputed claims over sovereignty, maritime rights and interests, joint development is the best option.

The Philippines started energy exploration at Recto Bank three years ago, but this was later suspended when they raised the dispute in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague contesting China’s claim in the South China Sea. China continues to ignore the Hague Court ruling, insisting the territorial dispute should be resolved bilaterally. 

When Duterte won office as President of the Philippines in 2016, he announced before the international community that he was aligning himself with China (and also Russia) and kept a lie-low stance against China’s military presence in the South China Sea.

When  journalists asked Duterte about his weakening stance on claiming sovereignty of the disputed waters, Duterte replied that the Philippines was not ready for war with China and that he will never allow carnage of his soldiers should war with China happen. He also said that China’s missiles can reach the Philippines in less than half an hour, and that made the Philippines ill-prepared for war.

China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan all have claims the disputed sea which forms part of a busy shipping lane that transports $5 trillion worth of goods a year.

Many shipping industry stakeholders have been monitoring developments. Many Western analysts view China’s aggression as a potential threat to the shipping industry in the region, but, for the Philippines, collaborating with China in joint exploration is a key move to promote peaceful relations in the region and on that should be beneficial to the global shipping industry.