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PBBM to press for SCS rules

Says Code of Conduct only way to calm down disputed waters

REGIONAL DIPLOMACY. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos arrives in Indonesia on Tuesday for the 42nd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits. 

Labuan Bajo, Indonesia—President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will make another push for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct with China in the South China Sea as he participates in the 42nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit here over the next three days.

“You cannot stop trying, so yes I will bring that up again. Because when we talk about the issues in the West Philippine Sea, in the South China Sea, hindi magkakalma iyan hanggang wala tayong (it will not calm down until we have the) Code of Conduct,” Mr. Marcos told reporters.

“So yes, that has always, for me, been the key element in the ASEAN centrality solution to this problem, is really the new code of conduct. Paulit ko ulit ko sinasabi (I say repeatedly), in every forum I can find, I say that we need to finish the Code of Conduct,” he added.

The COC is intended to reduce the risk of conflict in the South China Sea in the disputed waterway where China’s expansive maritime and territorial claims clash with those of four ASEAN member states: Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.

“Kapag may code of conduct lahat susunod. That makes things clearer, walang possibility na magkamali kasi maliwanag na maliwanag dapat ang usapan (If there’s a Code of Conduct, everyone will follow. That makes things clearer, there’s no room for error because everything discussed should be clear),” the President said.

Mr. Marcos also said Taiwan’s conflict with China is “an unavoidable subject” in the ASEAN Summit as leaders treat it as a “grave concern” to the region.

Inset photo shows ASEAN Foreign ministers, namely (from left) Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Zambry Abd Kadir, Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, Singapore’s Senoir Officer Leader Albert Chua, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Laos’ Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, Brunei’s Senior Officer Leader Johariah Wahab, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, East Timor’s Foreign Minister Adaljiza Xavier Magno and the ASEAN Secretary General Kao Kim Hourn as they pose for a family photo during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on May 9, 2023. AFP 

He said the matter has been a point of discussion for a long time, noting the need to calibrate measures to address this.

“The discussions on that we had goes to a year ago, in that time many changes occurred, that it why we have to really calibrate whatever it is that we are planning,” Mr. Marcos said.

“So, yes, there’s no way around it. That will inevitably be a part of the conversation that we’ll be having tomorrow and the day after,” he added.

The President also disclosed he is considering the proposal of the Chinese side to map out fishing grounds of both countries in the South China Sea.

“I talked to the Coast Guard, I talked to the DFA and I said here’s the proposal of the Chinese. Let’s see if we can accommodate that into our agreement so we’re headed there,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Marcos emphasized the importance of promoting and protecting the Philippines’ interests in the biannual meeting of the regional bloc.

In his pre-departure speech delivered at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City, Mr. Marcos said he would discuss with his fellow ASEAN leaders their efforts to sustain economic prosperity, attain food and energy security, boost trade and investments, address transnational crimes, and protect distressed migrant workers.

“I will join other Leaders of ASEAN to advance our community-building efforts in the region and ensure the well-being and security of our people, in line with Indonesia’s chairmanship theme of ‘ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth’,” the President said.

“My participation will serve to promote and protect the interests of our country, including our continued efforts towards economic growth, attaining food and energy security, promoting trade and investment, combatting transnational crimes such as the trafficking in persons, and protecting migrant workers in crisis situations, amongst others,” he added.

Mr. Marcos said he and his fellow Southeast Asian leaders would also exchange views on “pressing issues of common concerns” such as developments in the West Philippine Sea, the situation in Myanmar and major power rivalries.

He expressed confidence in having “productive engagements” with the other ASEAN leaders, noting that the 10 member-states of the regional bloc have a “very clear area of commonality,” especially when it comes to their aspiration for sustained economic growth.

“And as the theme of this ASEAN Summit is clearly manifesting, it is once again towards economic growth,” he said, stressing that the Southeast Asian region has been viewed by non-ASEAN members like China, the United States and the European Union as “growth center for the global economy.”

“And that is why it is very important that we go and continue to discuss amongst other ASEAN leaders of all the member-states on how we can maximize and find that extra energy, that synergy from our working together,” Mr. Marcos added.

The President will also attend the 15th Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) Summit.

He would also participate in a series of interfaces of the Southeast Asian leaders with the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) and representatives from the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC), ASEAN Youth, and the High-Level Task Force on the ASEAN Community Post-2025 Vision.

“In these meetings, we will have the opportunity to highlight the importance of strengthening cooperation in the BIMP-EAGA subregion to sustain its thriving economy, the strong partnership between the executive and legislative bodies of ASEAN, the pivotal role of private sector and the youth in advancing growth and shaping the future as well as the future direction of the ASEAN Vision,” Mr. Marcos said.

The Philippine government underscored the need to reinforce ASEAN centrality amid what it calls “unprecedented” and more complex challenges that the region faces today. With AFP

During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Indonesia, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said one way of doing this is to implement the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

“As we seek ways to reinforce our Centrality, I think it is important that we seek ways on how to project our Centrality outward. We need to ask how ASEAN can matter not just to our circle of ten, soon to be eleven, but to the larger region and the world,” he said in his remarks.

ASEAN centrality is defined as the need for the bloc to become the center of regional architecture in Southeast Asia and its surrounding regions.

The call was made against the backdrop of tensions and heightened uncertainties amid regional developments, including the tensions on the Taiwan Strait, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, North Korea’s ballistic missile tests in the Korean Peninsula, and the South China Sea rows.

Southeast Asian nations are at a “crossroad”, a senior Indonesian minister warned Tuesday, as escalating violence in junta-controlled Myanmar loomed over the regional summit.

Myanmar has been ravaged by deadly violence since a military coup deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s government more than two years ago and unleashed a bloody crackdown on dissent.

The ASEAN — long-decried by critics as a toothless talking shop — has led diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis.

Those efforts have been fruitless, as the junta ignores international criticism and refuses to engage with its opponents, which include ousted lawmakers, anti-coup “People’s Defense Forces” and armed ethnic minority groups.

The President also hoped to hold a bilateral meeting with the leaders of Timor-Leste to discuss their prospective membership in ASEAN.

Timor-Leste Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak is expected to attend the 42nd ASEAN Summit as an observer for the first time.

Following the admission of Timor-Leste’s application to be the 11th ASEAN member in 2022, the 10 Southeast Asian leaders are expected to adopt a roadmap on its full membership during this year’s summit.

The ASEAN Summit provides a platform for Southeast Asian leaders to discuss and exchange views on key regional issues, as well as build consensus on matters of mutual interest and provide policy directions on ASEAN community-building efforts.

The Southeast Asian leaders are expected to discuss ways to maintain internal peace in the region amid rising geopolitical issues in the Indo-Pacific region, while strengthening the regional bloc in becoming a fast-growing, inclusive and sustainable economic region.

The 42nd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits are expected to produce around 16 outcome documents.

Under the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, the bloc seeks to create an enabling environment for peace, stability, and prosperity in the region by addressing common challenges, upholding the rules-based regional architecture, and promoting closer economic cooperation.

It seeks to strengthen its existing mechanisms with external partners, including the East Asia Summit, consisting of the 10 ASEAN member states, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.

It also aims to implement other areas of cooperation centered on maritime cooperation, connectivity, the Sustainable Development Goals, and economics, among others.

“For five decades, ASEAN Centrality has been in a way our north star, and it has successfully guided our engagements with the world. But the challenges we face today are certainly complex and more interconnected than ever, and our Centrality is being tested in unprecedented ways,” Manalo said.

“Lest we become a victim of our own success and become overburdened, we must channel this greater interest into high-quality engagements, with a robust agenda that puts ASEAN’s profile and interests front and center.”

Manalo and the other foreign ministers of the nine ASEAN member states met on the sidelines of the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia. — Vince Lopez with AFP

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