President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday enjoined the other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to look for “innovative” ways to resolve the long-standing disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Duterte, in a speech delivered during the 36th annual Asean summit, maintained that tensions among South China Sea claimants should de-escalate.
He said provocative acts could only trigger hostilities within the disputed waters.
“We must not lose sight of strategic interest in (the South) China Sea. We must find innovative ways and exercise flexibility to achieve our common goal,” the President said in his intervention.
He made the appeal to his fellow Asean leaders as he acknowledged there were still “alarming incidents” in the South China Sea.
“We call on the parties to refrain from escalating tension and abide by the responsibilities under the international law, notably the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea),” he said.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are claiming parts of the South China Sea, while China is claiming most of the busy waterway.
Negotiations between the Asean and China are still underway for the crafting of a final and binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, which aims to promote peace and stability in the highly contested waters.
Vietnamese deputy foreign minister Nguyen Quoc Dung said on Thursday that senior officials of the Asean and China would hold a meeting on July 1 to discuss the range of cooperation mechanisms, including the specific plans for the resumption of delayed negotiations for the crafting of the COC in the South China Sea.
Duterte remained optimistic the Asean and China would come up with an “effective and substantive” COC in the South China Sea.
“We remain committed to work closely with the member-states and China towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.
Pending the crafting of the sea code, Duterte said the Asean and China should implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
“We urge all parties to adhere to the rule of law and to their commitments to international instruments, including the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” he said.
The DOC, inked by the 10 Asean members and China on Nov. 4, 2002, aims to exercise self-restraint and promote non-militarization within the South China Sea.