DFA says ASEAN Foreign Ministers' joint communique "accurate reflection" discussion amid reported non-inclusion of China's militarization in disputed waters
The Department of Foreign Affairs assured on Tuesday that the joint communique to be issued by the Southeast Asian Foreign Ministers during their 50th meeting would be an "accurate reflection" of what they would be discussing later this week in Manila.
Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar made the statement amid reports that the draft joint statement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers did not state "serious concern" on China's continuous activities, including militarization, in the disputed South China Sea.
In a press briefing in Malacanang, he did not confirm the draft joint communique was watered down.
"I don’t think we can comment as yet on whether the draft you say is circulating, is an actual draft, is an accurate draft, because these drafts evolve very quickly," he said.
"We are a few days away from AMM and the Related Meetings. So, there are now more enhanced, more vigorous consultations among the ASEAN member states, and then of course, with the dialogue partners for the respective Chairman Statements," Bolivar said.
The AMM and Related Meetings will be held on August 2 to 8 in Manila.
"So, we’ll just have to wait until we actually see the Joint Communiqu? or the Chairman Statement to see what actually comes out. But, as Chair, it is our role to make sure that there is an accurate reflection of what was discussed during these meetings," Bolivar stressed.
During the ASEAN Leaders' Meeting in April, also held in the country, President Rodrigo Duterte, who is the current chairman of ASEAN, did not include in his statement the July 2016 Arbitral Award on the Philippines, apparently in deference to China.
Duterte, who visited Beijing twice already since he assumed office in June last year, has decided to put at the back burner the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favor of the Philippines by invalidating China's historic claim and sovereign right over almost the entire South China Sea.
Bolivar said they expect that the foreign ministers would endorse the framework on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea prepared by the senior officials of ASEAN and China during a meeting onAugust 6 in Manila.
"The framework basically presents an outline of the Code of Conduct. So after it is endorsed, after the approvals process has been done, dealt with, we expect that the talks on the actual Code of Conduct will begin in earnest," he said.
Asked when the public could see an actual binding COC in the South China Sea, Bolivar said, "We don’t want to put a time frame on that. But definitely, it will begin as soon as the approvals process of the framework is over."
According to the DFA, the framework on COC was not a binding document.
Some Filipino experts have said that China was just "dribbling" the Philippines and other ASEAN countries by coming out with a non-binding COC.
ASEAN and China had come out with the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea on November 2002. But the document was also non-binding.
Aside from the Philippines, the other ASEAN claimants in the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. Celerina Monte/DMS