Cayetano admits scrapping 'land reclamation, militarization' in South China Sea in original ASEAN joint communique draft
The Philippines, as chair of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations, did not include in the original draft of the joint communique China's "land reclamation and militarization" in the South China Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano admitted on Tuesday.
"Yes, I drafted it. I didn't want to include it. it's not reflective of the present situation," said Cayetano when asked if the Philippines initially did not include in the draft joint communique the land reclamation and militarization by China in the disputed waters.
He said China is not reclaiming land anymore in the South China Sea. "So why will I put it again this year?," he said.
But , the final joint communique issued by the ASEAN foreign ministers on Sunday night contained concerns on the land reclamation and other activities of China in the disputed sea.
"We discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea and took note of the concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations and activities in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region," the joint communique read.
The document also mentioned the importance of "non-militarization and self-restraint" in the conduct of activities by claimants and all other states.
But Cayetano said since there were Southeast Asian foreign ministers who wanted to include China's activities, they were included in the final joint communique.
He said this was the "consensus" reached, which was reflective of ASEAN centrality.
"But since there was reclamation in the past and you can start to reclaim again, that was the general sentiment. I accepted it. So start with a proposition. Militarization, there's militarization in the areas, but there's also militarization outside. Every country has the right to defend itself," Cayetano explained.
He said the joint communique is a negotiated document.
"You start with zero draft, give it to every one. Draft after draft until you agree. You can go for the minimum, for maximum, for middle. Our team decided to go with language that is more reflective of what was happening in the last year (meeting) because the last year document was the Vientiane document," he said.
When President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in June last year, he decided to have "soft landing" with the Philippine relations with China and even shelved for the meantime the ruling of the arbitral tribunal invalidating Beijing's sovereign claim over almost the entire South China Sea. Celerina Monte/DMS