USA & the Philippines will push for Spratlys issue in ASEAN forum agenda

The United States and the Philippines have urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) to tackle current tensions over the disputed Spratly islands when it meets later this month in Bali, Indonesia.

“As a significant security forum, the issue of South China Sea disputes will possibly be a primary topic in the ASEAN Regional Forum," Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

American Ambassador Harry Thomas concurred that the ARF “is an excellent opportunity to tackle the conflict in the South China Sea / West Philippines Sea."

The ARF will convene in Bali from July 16 - 31 and bring together international security experts from ASEAN's 10 member-countries and the association’s dialogue partners. ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Among the dialogue partners are the USA, European Union, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Russia.

Six countries have territorial claims on the South China Sea. They are the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Approaches, solutions

Del Rosario said the issue can be approached from a maritime security perspective while Thomas urged the application of diplomatic solutions. “We don’t want to demonize China, we should not demonize China," Thomas said.

The Philippines sent to the Chinese embassy in Manila a diplomatic protest on recent incursions into the West Philippine Sea.

Del Rosario was in Washington D.C. last week, where he met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last June 23.

"As I have said many times before, the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded, lawful commerce in the South China Sea. We share these interests not only with ASEAN members but with other maritime nations in the broader international community," Clinton said in her joint press conference with Del Rosario.

"The United States does not take sides on territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, but we oppose the use of force or the threat of force to advance the claims of any party," Clinton added.

Del Rosario responded by reaffirm the Philippines position on maintaining peace and enabling economic development of the contested waters and islands. " There is need to segregate the non-disputed areas from the disputed areas. What is ours is ours, and what is disputed can be shared," Del Rosario pointed out.

The Philippines and the US this year are marking the 60th anniversary of their Mutual Defense Treaty.

Clinton said the US in engaged in "discussions with the Government of the Philippines about what their needs are because it is up to them to decide how to deploy forces and what their highest priorities are... we certainly wish to do what we can to support the Philippines in their desires for external support for maritime defense."

Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines has committed resources "to protect our national borders and ensure freedom of navigation and the unimpeded flow of commerce. We thus welcome the assurance from Secretary Clinton of the US commitment to honor their treaty obligations."


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