By: Pots de Leon, Interaksyon.com
August 1, 2013 6:10 PM
MANILA – The Philippines and Vietnam will try to persuade other ASEAN members at a meeting in Thailand this month to go beyond mere consultations and go on to negotiations on the Code of Conduct on their maritime disputes when the 10-member bloc meets with China later this year.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, after meeting Thursday his Vietnamese counterpart, said Manila and Hanoi agreed to pitch to the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, including two other claimants in the South China Sea— Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam— not to settle for mere consultations but instead go for a “negotiation stage” in September.
Del Rosario said, “We wanted to take a giant steps with China [in terms of the COC]. It is supposed to be just a consultation meeting, but we want to be able to bring it to a negotiation stage.” Should the 10-member bloc agree to the Manila-Hanoi proposal, they will bring up the matter at the ASEAN-China meeting in September in Beijing.
The Beijing meeting is the first time China has agreed to hold consultations with ASEAN as a bloc on the drafting of the Code of Conduct for parties in the South China Sea [which the Philippines calls West Philippine Sea], an instrument that is backed by the United States and is seen as a way to manage the territorial disputes in the region.
The Code, however, does not include a dispute settlement mechanism; it is just a means for holding claimant-countries more liable based on the provisions of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC).
Del Rosario and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh had wide-ranging discussions on Thursday at the 7th meeting of Philippine-Vietnam Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation. The meeting tackled maritime disputes in the region and ways “to cooperate more closely in terms of the dispute settlement situation that we find ourselves in.”
In the meeting, said the DFA chief, Minister Pham signaled that Hanoi was open to the possibility of joining in the arbitration process that Manila opted to use by filing a case last January with the United Nations. The process for the arbitral tribunal is under way, with Manila and Beijing being directed by the five-member panel of judges to submit this month their comments on draft rules set by the judges to govern the process.
Del Rosario noted that “Vietnam has been very clear in terms of advocating the position as part of the peaceful resolution according to international law, arbitration is a mechanism that should be respected.”
The matters of maritime domain awareness, sharing of information and patrolling the maritime borders will have to be discussed, meanwhile, when Vietnam’s defense minister meets with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin later this year, according to del Rosaio.
The Philippines filed in January 22 this year a case before the UN arbitral tribunal against China’s excessive and expansive claim over the disputed sea. It said China’s nine-dash-line claim is excessive and baseless.
Beijing has repeatedly rejected arbitration, insisting it wanted to resolve the dispute solely through “bilateral” negotiations.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even if China refuses to participate in the arbitration, the Philippines can still proceed with its case to prove that Beijing’s nine-dash-line claim is excessive and baseless.
Beijing’s claim covers the entire South China Sea, parts of which are being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.
Hanoi backs arbitration
Pham assured the DFA chief that Hanoi support Manila’s case before the Arbitral Tribunal. “They are very supportive of that [Philippine arbitration case against China]; we’re discussing the possibilities that we may be able to cooperate closely with them in terms of the settlement of the dispute,” del Rosario told reporters in an ambush interview on Thursday.
The relationship between the two ASEAN neighbors was recently tested following reports that Vietnam had entered into an agreement with China to jointly explore the resources in the disputed sea, believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas.
Analysts had said that such an agreement leaves the Philippines alone in dealing with China.
Del Rosario clarified Thursday that Vietnam did not enter into any agreement with China that would violate Hanoi’s local law. Even though China has been proposing to both the Philippines and Vietnam that they enter into a “joint development proposal” including joint gas exploration, the two ASEAN countries did not agree with Beijing’s proposal.
“I think they said that China is proposing a joint development proposal with them, but I think they have taken the same position as ourselves. That a joint venture is possible if it is consistent with the laws of Vietnam, and in our case in the laws of the Philippines,” del Rosario explained.
Asked if Vietnam will join the UN arbitration, del Rosario said “possibly”.
He added, “that’s one option; of course it is a possibility that we may be able to cooperate closely with them in terms of the settlement of the dispute,” the DFA secretary said.