Singapore–President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday urged China to show the way forward, now that it has occupied and built up disputed territories in the South China Sea.
“You’re there, you’re in possession, you occupied it. Then tell us what route shall we take and what kind of behavior [is acceptable],” Duterte said during an interview with Manila reporters minutes before the start of the 21st ASEAN-China Summit in Singapore.
Duterte said he would push “at all costs” for the early conclusion of negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
READ: China wants sea rulebook done in 3 years
He also said he was worried about the discord between Beijing and Washington and the risks that a “serious miscalculation” could bring.
“Everything has been excellent between China and the rest of ASEAN, except for the fact that there’s friction between the Western nations and China,” said Duterte.
“I am worried. I expressed it last night because we have a mutual defense treaty with the US,” Duterte said. “That is why at all costs we must have the COC.”
He ruled out pulling out of the mutual defense treaty, saying the country could not simply “shoo away” the United States.
On the second day of the summit, the President skipped an informal breakfast with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a session on ASEAN-Korea ties, and a nearly two-hour working lunch hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for Asean leaders and guests, which was also attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. represented the President in these meetings.
This was the second time this year that the President decided to not show up in a summit involving Australia, which has expressed concern over his bloody crackdown on illegal drugs.
His decision to skip the Korean meeting, came after reports said South Korea dumped 5,100 tons of garbage at the Mindanao Container Terminal in Misamis Oriental.
In Manila, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Palace found it “amusing that some quarters are making a big fuss” over the President’s skipping a few meetings.
“In the four meetings the President did not attend, he tasked Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. to represent him and to read his remarks. [The Presidnet] will also not attend the gala dinner scheduled tonight and will instead rest. Last night, the President worked late and had only less than three hours of sleep. It is unfortunate that the first event scheduled today was at 8:30 a.m.
“In those instances where he did not attend, namely, the ASEAN-Australia Informal Breakfast Summit, the 20th ASEAN – Republic of Korea Summit, the Working Lunch hosted by Singapore Prime Minister
Lee Hsien Loong and the Second Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit, he took power naps to catch on sleep,” Panelo said.
To formally open the 21st Asean-China talks, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed confidence that the Philippines would bring ties between the 10-nation regional bloc with China to greater heights.
“And I look forward to a substantive discussion with [Chinese] Premier Li Keqiang on how ASEAN and China can take our relations forward,” Lee added.
During a working dinner hours after the opening ceremony of the 33rd Asean Summit, Duterte said the Philippines will “do its part” as the dialogue coordinator between the Asean and China.
“In our role as country coordinator of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations until 2021, we are committed to working with all concerned parties in the substantive negotiations and early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct,” said Duterte in his speech Tuesday evening.
To realize a more peaceful, stable and secure region, the President noted that the Asean members, with its partner countries, must “intensify their cooperation and implement previously agreed-upon action plans” if they are going to address the issues in the disputed South China Sea.
“We likewise reaffirm our commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” said the President.
“This includes the peaceful settlement of disputes, the exercise of self-restraint, and the freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Duterte added.
The single draft document for the Code of Conduct that will serve as the basis for the claimant countries’ negotiations in the disputed South China Sea would be completed by 2019, the ASEAN and China said Wednesday.
In a statement delivered by President Rodrigo Duterte, the 10-nation regional bloc and China stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the contested waterways.
“ASEAN and China have seen steady progress in the initial phase of the COC negotiations since the announcement of a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text and looked forward to the completion of the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by 2019,” Duterte said during the 21st ASEAN-China Summit here Wednesday.
“ASEAN and China are committed to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the expeditious conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC),” he added.
The code of conduct, which serves as the basis for negotiations, will enable the Asean member-states and China to agree on certain formal guidelines.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, said Beijing is ready to work with all Asean countries to conclude the CoC consultations in three years’ time.
“It is our hope that we can set up a timeframe so that in three years’ time the COC will become a set of rules contributing to South China Sea [and it] will also be conducive to free trade and the further upgrading of our free trade area,” he said in his statement.
During the Asean summit in Manila last year, China and the 10 member-states drafted an agreement on the South China Sea, aiming to promote a peaceful, friendly, and harmonious environment in the contested waters between Asean and China for the enhancement of peace, stability, economic growth and prosperity in the region.
Countries such as Brunei Darussalam, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines have claims in the South China Sea.
Among the claimant countries, China has claimed almost the entire waters, including some parts and islands in the West Philippine Sea.
But in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague dismissed China’s claim and recognized the Philippines’ jurisdiction over the contested waters.
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