(From Nikkei Asian Review)
By Mariko Tai
China’s reclamation activity in the face of international opposition is “alarming,” Philippine President Benigno Aquino told the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday.
But the Southeast Asian leader said he is hopeful the country will re-examine its island-building and curb, if not halt, its construction work for the sake of regional stability, which he said can translate to prosperity for the world.
Q: How would you assess the Philippines’ relations with China given Beijing’s ongoing land-reclamation work in the South China Sea?
A: In 2011, I visited China on a state visit, and then-President Hu Jintao said that the issues in this body of water should not be the be-all and end-all of our relationship. And taking from that cue, the Philippines has constantly espoused the idea that stability within the region is a very necessary component for all governments in the region to be able to accomplish their priority task, which is to serve our people. Prosperity cannot happen if there is no stability.
With regard to the current reclamation effort, we are alarmed. In 2002, ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nation), in a dialogue with China — because China is a dialogue partner of ASEAN — tried to come up with a code of conduct with regard to how each country should relate to each other in the South China Sea. Now, they failed to do that. They came up with a declaration of conduct, and we believe that the reclamation efforts contravene section 5 of DOC (Declaration on the Conduct of Parties), which states that such activities tend to enhance tensions in the area and should be avoided.
[The declaration states] that “the Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features, and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
So, changing the features, and potentially putting people on these islands or newly created islands, does not go with both the letter of the agreement entered into in 2002, and especially the spirit. Again, we are very much alarmed and we don’t see the necessity for them doing so. It does contravene the agreements that were entered into between ASEAN and China. So we are examining further steps that the Philippines can take in consonance with international law. And our commitment [is to] solve the matter in a peaceful way.
It is not just the U.S., but also the European Union and various other countries have stated that, while not taking sides, they do see with alarm the potential for the increase of tensions because of all of these reclamation efforts. ASEAN in its most recent meeting also stated that there is cause for concern with all these reclamation efforts being undertaken. Especially when you look at Panganiban [Reef], you will see the reclamation efforts are very, very close to one of the components of the Philippine republic, Palawan.
So we, as the Philippines, are really bothered by this unilateral action that seems not to do anybody any good, [and] seems to not enable us to work in a more constructive and peaceful manner. It complicates an already complicated situation. Issues have been there from the 1970s — that is why they met in 2002 to try to resolve them. We believe we have complied fully with all of the agreements that were entered into in 2002. Read more