‘We need to stand together on South China Sea’

THE country’s Foreign Minister Enrique Manalo urged regional neighbours to stand together more strongly in upholding the rule of law in the South China Sea, where China is forcefully pursuing territorial claims in conflict with other nations.

Manalo spoke at a forum on maritime cooperation on the sidelines of a South-East Asian leaders’ summit in the Australian city of Melbourne yesterday at which increasingly assertive moves by China is high on the agenda.

Manalo referred to the Philippines’ victory over China in a 2016 arbitration ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. China did not accept the ruling.

Manalo said the Philippines pursued the case to uphold the rule of law and to promote the peaceful settlement of such disputes.

“The shared stewardship of the seas and oceans in the region behooves us to unite in preserving the primacy of international law so we can ensure equitable and sustainable outcomes for all,” he said.

“It also calls for us to stand firmly together in opposing actions that contradict or are inconsistent with international law,” he added.

China claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, which is one of the world’s most crucial waterways for shipping. That has put it at odds with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, which all maintain claims to islands, reefs and undersea resources in the region.

Manalo called for regional neighbours to uphold cooperation over confrontation and diplomacy over the threatened use of force.

“For the South China Sea and the seas and oceans of the Indo-Pacific to be unifying domains of peace, stability and prosperity, we need to gather more strongly around the collective responsibility as well as a shared sense of stewardship,” he said.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said in a statement Sunday that “China has always been committed to properly handling the South China Sea disputes with relevant parties through dialogue and consultation, while firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and its maritime rights and interests”.

The statement accused the Philippines of using the South China Sea to launch a “malicious smear campaign against China”.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong echoed Manalo’s comments, saying the nine member states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations represented at the Melbourne summit need to “nurture and protect agreed rules, uphold international law, prevent conflict and build strategic trust”.

“Shared prosperity is an incentive to maintain peace, yet it is not enough to guarantee peace. The stakes are clear,” Wong said.

“We know that a major conflict in our region would be devastating to our communities and economies,” she added. — AP

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