PHL denies ASEAN unified stance on West Philippine Sea row

November 19, 2012 11:12 pm 

By Michaela del Callar

MANILA, Nov. 19 – The Philippines denied on Monday that the Association of South East Asian Nations forged a unified position on how to address the long-raging territorial disputes in West Philippine Sea involving Manila, China, and three other ASEAN claimants

Cambodia, this year’s chairman of the regional bloc, said all 10 members of the ASEAN – including claimants like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – have agreed “not to internationalize” the territorial row during an ongoing summit in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

“At the ASEAN retreat yesterday, various views were expressed on ASEAN unity, which were translated by the chair into an ASEAN consensus,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a text message.

He said “this was not the understanding of both the Philippines and at least one other country,” believed to be Vietnam, which had a history of violent confrontations with China over overlapping maritime claims.

The failure of the ASEAN to come up with a common stance on the issue is an indication of continuing divisions in the regional bloc over how to deal with the West Philippine Sea conflict.

While some members like the Philippines and Vietnam are aligned with the United States and other Western countries calling for a rules-based and multilateral approach in solving the disputes, other members aligned to China like Cambodia and Laos toe Beijing’s line either by not openly backing a multilateral approach or opposing it outrightly.

ASEAN groups Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam. Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Last year, the Philippines and Vietnam separately accused Chinese vessels of intruding into their territories in and near the Spratlys off the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea and of disrupting their oil exploration activities. But China has claimed it has sovereignty in those areas on historical grounds.

The Philippines and China, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have long disputed ownership of the West Philippine Sea or also known as the South China Sea, a chain of islands, cays, reefs and atolls believed to be rich in oil and gas and straddles busy shipping routes.

Chinese and Philippine government ships figured in a standoff starting in April at Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, a sprawling offshore area north of the Spratlys and off the country’s northeastern province of Zambales that both countries claim.

Manila has considered to elevate its disputes with China to a mediation body in the United Nations.

Del Rosario said President Benigno S. Aquino indicated in the meeting that the Philippines does not support the so-called “consensus” that was announced by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“While the Philippines was for ASEAN unity, it has the inherent right to defend its national interest when deemed necessary,” Del Rosario said.

The Foreign Affairs Chief said he conveyed the Philippine position in a formal letter to Cambodia and to all ASEAN Foreign Ministers. (PNA)

RMA/MDC/SSC

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