Friday, July 20, 2012

Phl ranks high on 'environmental governance'

The Philippines has outranked the United States, Australia, Singapore and South Korea in terms of “environmental governance,” the recent 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) of Yale and Columbia universities showed.

The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) here quoted Environment Secretary Ramon Paje as saying that the Philippines landed 42nd among 132 countries in the EPI, higher than the US and the other developed countries.

The EPI placed the US, Australia, Singapore and South Korea in ranks 48, 49, 52, and 61, respectively. Switzerland topped the list.

“The Philippines moved up from number 50 two years ago and maintained its eighth position in the Asia-Pacific region,” Paje said.

Paje attributed the country’s marked improvement in environmental governance to “concrete programs on environmental protection that mostly involved community participation.”

The EPI analyzed the global community’s performance on certain policy issues against environmental pressures.

“In Central Luzon, the implementation of a moratorium on logging on natural and residual forests under Executive Order 23, and the continuing implementation of the National Greening Program under Executive Order 26 complemented the government’s thrusts on environmental protection and restoration,” the DENR said.-The Philippine Star (July 20, 2012)

Phl, Thailand to lead 5.2% SEA growth - ADB

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is forecasting that economies of Southeast Asia would grow by 5.2 percent on the back of the strong growth of the Philippines and rebound of the Thailand economy.

From a modest growth rate of 4.6 percent in 2011, Southeast Asian economies will surge by 5.2 percent this year and an even stronger 5.6 percent next year, the ADB projects.

The ADB said in its new Asian Economic Integration Monitor (AEM) that strong domestic demand and private investment helped drive Southeast Asian growth in the first half. The region’s economies expanded 4.3 percent in the first quarter after a weak 2.9 percent performance in the last quarter of 2011.

The Asian Economic Integration Monitor is a semi-annual review of Asia’s regional economic cooperation and integration. It covers 48 regional member countries.

 “The improvement was due mainly to the strong rebound in Thailand’s growth after the disruptions from last year’s floods – and strong Philippine growth,” the AEM noted.

Singapore and Malaysia posted slower growth in the first quarter, while Vietnam’s first half growth came in lower than expected due to domestic policy tightening and weakness in the banking sector.

The ADB said that the weak external environment would likely contribute to slower export growth, hurting the more export-dependent economies in the region. Both export growth and industrial production is trending down.

 “However, private consumption remains strong, helping sustain the robust growth outlook for the region. Retail sales have been picking up and consumer confidence has remained strong, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines,” it said.

The region’s growth will also get a boost from Thailand’s continued rapid recovery with the government expected to spend B480 billion (4.2 percent of gross domestic product or GDP) for flood-relief and reconstruction. Most governments also retain sufficient policy space to ease monetary policy and provide fiscal stimulus if needed.

Overall, developing Asia, which grew by 7.2 percent last year, would experience slower growth of 6.6 percent this year, but nearly return to its previous rate of 7.1 percent in 2013.

After a more robust eight percent growth rate in 2011, East Asia is forecast to slowdown to 7.1 percent this year and slightly pick up to 7.5 percent in 2013. China particularly will see a slowdown in economic growth of 8.2 percent this year from 9.2 percent in 2011, and 8.5 percent in 2013.

The major developed nations will, however, continue to grope for growth. The United States is forecast to inch up to a rate of 1.9-percent this year from 1.7 percent and pick up somewhat to 2.2 percent by next year.

From a positive 1.5-percent growth rate, the eurozone will shrink by (-) 0.7 percent this year but return to the positive zone of 0.8 percent in 2013.-The Philippine Star (July 2012, 2012)

Malaysian facilitator optimistic on peace talks in Philippines

The Malaysian official acting as the facilitator in the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has expressed optimism that both sides are nearing the signing of a final peace pact.

In a statement today, the Office of the Philippine Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, quoting Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato' Ghafar Tengku bin Mohamed, said that the GPH and the MILF are "closer to the vision of the final peace agreement."

"However, we feel there are a lot of work to be done. One thing is - we are moving very fast. I think that is important. The spirit of the whole final agreement is understood by both parties, " Ghafar said.

The GPH and the MILF just concluded the three-day 29th formal exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur where both parties expressed confidence of wrapping up their discussions on mechanisms toward realizing the new autonomous political entity (NPE) to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The NPE is one of the 10 common standpoints indicated in the Decision Points on Principles signed by the panels in April.

Both sides also agreed to resume the formal talks in August to continue discussing the substantive issues, which include power- sharing and other related matters.-The Philippine Star (July 2012, 2012)

Chinese landing ship spotted

A Navy surveillance plane monitoring the activities of Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed Spratly Islands has spotted a Chinese landing ship in Subi Reef (Zamora Reef), an area only 12 nautical miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island.

The Chinese troop and logistics ship, a Yuting class with bow No. 934, is armed with three heavy guns, built-in cranes, and a helipad.

The vessel was photographed by a Navy surveillance plane deployed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (Wescom) in Palawan last Tuesday.

The Chinese ship is anchored at the Chinese-occupied Subi Reef, close to Pag-asa Island, which is occupied by Filipino troops and civilians and is part of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan.

“We are doing our best with what we have,” Wescom spokesman Lt. Col. Niel Estrella said of their surveillance and monitoring operations on the current security development in the Spratlys.

Estrella said that monitoring operations yesterday were hampered by bad weather in the area.

Wescom commander Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban had intensified air and maritime patrols in the disputed region in response to the recent grounding of a Chinese frigate within the waters of Palawan, particularly in the vicinity of Hasa-Hasa Shoal (Half Moon Shoal), followed by China’s launching of one of the biggest fishing expeditions in the disputed region.

Sabban said that Hasa-Hasa Shoal is part of Palawan waters and the area is outside of the disputed Spratlys.

Aside from China’s landing ship near the already heavily fortified Subi Reef, Wescom is currently monitoring the activities of the Chinese fishing fleet in Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef).

Latest reports said 29 Chinese fishing vessels, a Chinese maritime surveillance ship, and a merchant vessel were photographed anchored at Kagitingan Reef.

In nearby Union Reef, which is occupied by Vietnamese forces, a Wescom surveillance plane also monitored a lone Vietnamese fishing boat near dozens of Chinese fishing vessels in the area.

Union Reef as well as other islets and reefs in the area are within the hexagon area composed of 95 islands, cays, shoals and reefs under Kalayaan town based in Pag-asa Island, as per Presidential Decree 1596 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos, that led to the creation of an island municipality in the region.

AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos has admitted that in the absence of a credible territorial capability, the military’s action is confined only to monitoring the Chinese aggressive behavior in the contested waters in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the civilian leadership is addressing the rest of the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.-The Philippine Star (July 2012, 2012)

China forms body to administer 3 islands in Spratlys

Despite a diplomatic protest from the Philippines, China on Tuesday began organizing a legislative body for its “prefectural level” city called Sansha through which it intends to administer three islands in the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea.

Based on China’s official Web portal, a committee set up by the Standing Committee of the Hainan Provincial People’s Congress would begin the work of officially establishing Sansha.

The committee will organize the first municipal congress of Sansha, approve the electoral commission for the election of delegates and convene the first plenary meeting of the municipal congress.

The report said the congress will have 60 delegates directly elected, and its Standing Committee will have 15 members.

The State Council or China’s cabinet in June approved the establishment of Sansha to administer the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and the surrounding waters.

The seat of government of Sansha is on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha islands.

South China Sea, natural resources and competing national interests.The founding of Sansha city will improve China’s management of the region and help coordinate efforts to develop the islands and protect the marine environment, said Zhao Zhongshe, director of the Hainan provincial Department of Ocean and Fisheries.

Wu Shicun, director of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, also said the fishermen’s safety and the oil-gas, fishery and tourism resources in the South China Sea would be better protected.

Tourist cruises from Haikou to Sansha might be launched by the end of this year, according to the Hainan provincial Tourism Development Board.

Sansha City administers over 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands, covering 13 square kilometers in island area and two million square kilometers of water.

In 1959, China set up an administrative office to exercise sovereignty over the area.

The new city government compared to the administrative office will be able to better administrate the islands, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in June.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) summoned on July 4 Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and presented her a note verbale through which the Philippines protested Beijng’s establishment of Sansha. It was the Philippines’ 10th note verbale since the beginning of China’s encroachment on Panatag Shoal.-The Philippine Star (July 2012, 2012)

Southeast Asia seeks common ground on South China Sea spat

Indonesia's foreign minister will detail talks by Southeast Asian states aimed at crafting a joint statement on the South China Sea dispute, which undermined a regional summit last week and underscored growing tensions over the territory.

Marty Natalegawa will hold a news conference in Jakarta on Friday after visiting Cambodia on Thursday as part of a whistle-stop tour aimed at repairing discord among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the best way to resolve disputes in the South China Sea.

The territorial wrangle between the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam over potentially oil and gas rich areas in the South China Sea has exposed how deeply ASEAN member states have been polarized by China's rapidly expanding economic influence in the region.

But Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Thursday said that some form of statement on how a number of issues involved in the dispute could be handled could be released this week.

"We, ASEAN foreign ministers, agreed in principle on a number of issues over the South China Sea issue," Hor Namhong told a brief news conference on Thursday after meeting Natalegawa , without giving details.

"I hope that by tomorrow morning, we will receive approval confirmation from all ASEAN foreign ministers in order to announce these points."

Natalegawa, before flying back to Jakarta from Phnom Penh on Thursday, said the key points of a statement had been outlined and the "basic positions" could be announced imminently if the other states were to approve.

In 2002, ASEAN and China adopted an informal code of conduct in the South China Sea to avoid conflict and ease tensions. Last week they indicated efforts to work on a formal code, although no firm commitments were made.

Bickering over how to address the increasingly assertive role of China -- an ally of several ASEAN states -- in the strategic waters of the South China Sea has placed the issue squarely as Southeast Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended last week's summit and called on all parties, including China, to make clear exactly what their claims were in the South China Sea and open multilateral talks, something likely to rile Beijing, the resident superpower that prefers a bilateral approach.

The United States insists it is neutral on the issue, but having recently signed military cooperation agreements with claimant states Vietnam and the Philippines, China has become increasingly wary of its intentions.

On Thursday, China's state-run news agency Xinhua said a fishing fleet of 30 boats, including a 3,000-tonne lead boat, arrived at what China calls the Zhubi Reef in the Spratly Islands for fishing on Wednesday, almost a week after leaving port in south China's Hainan province.

The reef is claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

"Although Chinese fishermen have fished in the South China Sea for centuries, the size of the fishing fleet makes it a rarity," Xinhua said.

ASEAN included Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.-GMA News (July 19, 2012 11:05PM)

WORLD: China condemns Russia for detaining fishermen

China called an urgent meeting with Russia in Beijing on Thursday, condemning its coastguard days after it fired on Chinese fishing boats and detained dozens of fishermen who had entered its exclusive economic zone.

A Russian coastguard vessel on Tuesday fired warning shots at Chinese fishing vessels, then opened targeted fire to stop one trawler that had been fishing for squid in Russia's far eastern Primorsky region.

It later detained 36 fishermen and two fishing vessels.

"China is strongly dissatisfied with Russia's rough law enforcement and use of military force to seize Chinese fishing boats," Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told the acting head of Russia's mission in Beijing, according to a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website.

Cheng demanded that Russia investigate the incident, which left one fisherman missing, the statement said. Earlier Russian news reports said no one was killed or wounded during the incident.

It was not the first time Russia's coastguards have fired on Chinese trawlers and detained them for poaching fish in Russian waters, but such confrontations are rare.

Russia has watched cautiously as Beijing has emerged as a regional power, engaging it as a trading and diplomatic partner but wary of it as a potential rival for control of resources in Russia's thinly populated eastern stretches.

Russia has increased its economic and military investment in its Far East and strengthened its political presence there, creating a ministry to oversee the region in order to counter China's influence.

China has had recent run-ins with neighboring countries over its fishing vessels. In April, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting eight Chinese fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal in disputed waters in the South China Sea.-GMA News (July 19, 2012 10:43PM)

30 Chinese fishing boats arrive in Spratlys' Zamora Reef

MANILA - The fleet of 30 Chinese fishing boats has arrived in Zamora Reef, which is among those claimed by the Philippines as part of its Kalayaan Island Group. 

Zamora Reef is also known as Subi Reef.

China has built and expanded the garrison it has built in the area. -Interaksyon (July 19, 2012)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Asean War of Words Over South China Sea Continues

The recriminations and finger-pointing after last week’s busted Asean summit continue.

The highly-anticipated meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh was supposed to look for ways to resolve the long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which is claimed in whole or part by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. Instead, the ministers bickered over terms of the discussion and failed to settle on a concluding joint communiqué at the end of the summit, which is normally a formality – the first time Asean’s leaders failed to do so in the bloc’s 45-year history.

Tempers have kept flaring since then, with some analysts viewing the disagreement over the resource-rich sea as one of the biggest challenges the bloc has ever faced. Philippines officials in particular have complained the regional bloc isn’t doing enough to stand up to China, which is asserting its claims in the sea. Cambodia, which is chairing this year’s Asean meetings, has resisted any steps that would embarrass China, which asked that Asean leaders keep the topic off the agenda last week.

In the latest salvo, the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs sent out a statement – “Why There Was No Asean Joint Communique” – on Wednesday, defending its actions at the summit and debunking various criticisms leveled at the Philippine delegation.

Signed by Undersecretary Erlinda F. Basilio, the document listed numerous criticisms of the Philippine delegation which it said were “fiction,” including reports that the Philippine Foreign Minister walked out of last week’s meetings in disgust and that the Philippines didn’t do enough to build consensus on issues related to the sea. Among other things, the Philippines wanted Asean to mention the disputed Scarborough Shoal – which was the site of a two-month standoff between China and the Philippines that ended last month – in its joint communiqué, but not all nations present agreed.

The Philippines side has been working to build support for its position, but “the Cambodian Chair consistently rejected any proposed text that mentions Scarborough Shoal,” the letter said. The Philippines did not accuse Cambodia of “doing Beijing’s bidding” by resisting references to the Shoal, the letter said, “but other quarters preferred not to remain silent” on the issue, it added, without specifying which countries.

“The Philippines has been approaching the issue with patience and tolerance” when it comes to the sea, it added.

Kao Kimhourn, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cambodia, denied in an interview Wednesday that Cambodia tried to block the joint communiqué.

“We discussed more than 130 points and only one point related to South China Sea,” he said. “We tried to negotiate on this point (the South China Sea), but there was no consensus,” he said, adding that other countries supported Cambodia’s position.

Indeed, the big mystery now for Asean-watchers is: Which countries are taking Cambodia’s side, and which are lining up with the Philippines? Manila claims it is being supported by numerous other members, but many of the region’s governments have left their positions unclear. Diplomats from the Philippines and elsewhere – including the U.S. – have tried to lobby governments to support a tougher line against China, but what other regional powers such as Thailand say behind closed doors is hard to pin down.

A person familiar with the discussions last week said that mid-level officials from across Asean agreed to a joint statement that mentioned the South China Sea ahead of the meetings, but that Cambodia rejected it. The Philippines and at least one other nation then said they’d rather not have a statement if the issue was ignored, the person said.

It’s also unclear whether there will be a way out of the impasse, though some diplomats are trying to find one. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa set off on an emergency swing through Southeast Asia on Wednesday to try to patch up disagreements over the sea issue, including some form of code of conduct to govern future disputes, the Associated Press said.

It is “critically important” for the bloc to make progress on the issue soon, he said at a press conference. “If we do not do anything, we know the damage will become bigger,” he said.-Wall Street Journal (July 18, 2012 7:13PM)

Indonesia scrambles to end Asean rift

Indonesia’s top diplomat embarked on an emergency swing through Southeast Asia yesterday to try to end disagreements over territorial rifts in the South China Sea and push for a new pact aimed at avoiding future clashes in the volatile region.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he met his Philippine counterpart in Manila yesterday and would fly to other Southeast Asian nations to try to ease the discord and prevent further damage to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Foreign ministers of the 10-nation bloc failed to publicly issue a concluding joint statement after their annual summit in Phnom Penh last week when host Cambodia rejected a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their separate territorial disputes with China in the statement.

The absence of a post-conference statement was unprecedented in ASEAN’s 45-year history and underscored the divisions within the regional group over the handling of the South China Sea disputes, which involve four of its members – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The four, along with China and Taiwan, have been contesting ownership of potentially oil- and gas-rich territories for years and recent spats have raised new tensions and alarm in the region.

Cambodia, a close China ally, has followed Beijing’s stance that the disputes should not be brought to a multinational forum like ASEAN but instead should be negotiated by rival claimants one on one.

The Philippines and Vietnam, in contrast, have sought to draw international attention to the disputes, warning that China’s aggression in the South China Sea could potentially block freedom of navigation in the strategic and busy waters, which Beijing claims virtually in their entirety.

Washington has said the peaceful resolution of the territorial conflicts and freedom of navigation in the contested waters are in the US national interest. China, however, has warned the US not to interfere.-The Philippine Star (July 19, 2012)

Palace to China: Match your words with action

The Philippines would not abdicate its sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea despite China’s continuous deployment of vessels and the establishment of a legislative body to oversee three disputed islands, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Beijing should also match its words with action to attain peace in the region.

“In no way do we abdicate our sovereign rights over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal because it is part of our exclusive economic zone and that’s very important for us – both domestically and internationally,” Lacierda said.

“They have stated openly, very recently, (China’s leader-in-waiting) Xi Jinping has already mentioned that... they would prefer a peaceful resolution,” he added. Asked if the Philippines was hoping that China would match its words with action, Lacierda said, “Of course.”

Lacierda said the “thrust of our policy is to maintain a stance of peaceful resolution” even in Panatag Shoal, where Chinese vessels had maintained presence despite its proximity to the Philippines.

He said the Philippines relates with China on different levels and is confident that continuing exchanges would help promote a harmonious relationship between the two countries.

He noted that President Aquino thanked China for its help in the completion of a La Mesa Dam project.

Lacierda said the situation had not worsened, as “there were instances” that vessels were withdrawn from Panatag Shoal.

“They are back obviously. But China has not taken any provocative action in terms of military action. And so, since there has been no military action, we are always hopeful that a peaceful resolution will be maintained by both parties,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda refused to comment on reports that China had sent a submersible to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), saying it is highly speculative at this point.

The mission of the submersible is reportedly to be “part of the preparations for future commercial mining of the seabed.”

“They have stated as much but we don’t know yet if they are traversing in international waters and obviously there is freedom of navigation in international waters and no one can stop any country from traversing these waters,” he said.

Lacierda denied that China’s aggressive moves were connected with the Philippines’ decision to seek help from the United States.

“Without the Philippines, the United States has adopted a rebalancing doctrine wherein they have... reoriented 60 percent of their forces to the Pacific. That has been the new doctrine of the United States and it applies to the Asia Pacific region, not specifically the Philippines. It’s a doctrine that applies to the entire Asia Pacific,” Lacierda said.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces Western Command (Wescom) chief Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban said around 30 Chinese fishing boats escorted by a maritime ship were spotted in the vicinity of Kagitingan Reef – known internationally as Johnson Reef – in the West Philippine Sea.

The fleet reportedly includes a 3,000-ton supply ship and a patrol vessel and is said to be the largest ever launched from Hainan province.

“This is about 100 (nautical) miles southwest of Pag-asa,” Sabban said, referring to an island within Kalayaan municipality in Palawan. Kagitingan Reef is being claimed by the Philippines as it is well within the hexagon area that comprises Kalayaan town.-The Philippine Star (July 19, 2102)

U.S. Senate panel votes to renew Myanmar sanctions

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to keep pressure on Myanmar to continue economic and political reforms by extending a U.S. ban on imports from the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation for three more years.

The bill updates legislation first passed in 2003 and which expires near the end of this month. It also preserves the White House's authority to waive or terminate the sanctions to reward Myanmar, also known as Burma, for positive steps.

"By reauthorizing the import sanctions for three years, we maintain pressure on the Burmese government to undertake reforms," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said.

Supporters hope the full Senate and House of Representatives will pass the bill before the month-long August recess. The measure was included in broader legislation to renew an expiring trade benefit for sub-Saharan African countries.

The United States imported $356.4 million of clothing and other goods from Burma in 2002, the last full year before the U.S. import ban was imposed. Imports fell to $275.7 million in 2003 and have been zero in most years since.

The Obama administration eased some sanctions last week to allow U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar and provide services in the country.

Two days later, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Myanmar's President Thein Sein at a Southeast Asian nations meeting in Cambodia to continue the country's emergence from nearly a half-century of reclusive military rule.

The United States banned imports from Myanmar in 2003 and expanded the legislation in 2008 to include jewelry from other countries made with jade or rubies from Myanmar.

The law required lawmakers to vote annually to renew the sanctions, subject to a maximum of nine times. The new bill reauthorizes annual renewals through July 2015-GMA News (July 19, 2012 12:06AM)

Cambodia closes schools amid fear of virus spread

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia closed all its kindergartens and primary schools on Wednesday to prevent the spread of a deadly virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease and has killed at least 55 children since April, a senior government official said.

Sixty-one cases had been identified as the Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), which has affected children between the ages of three months and 11 years.

The outbreak has raised concern in other parts of the region, such as Thailand and the Philippines. Children have tested positive in both countries for strains of hand, foot and mouth disease, although no deaths have been reported.

In Cambodia, 55 children are known to have died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most were younger than three years old and died within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital.

"After receiving report from some provinces about the rapid spread of hand, foot and mouth disease in schools, we don't have to wait two more weeks," Mak Van, Education Ministry Secretary of State, told Reuters.

He said the closures would be in force for 10 weeks. Schools had been due to close for holidays at the end of August.

The WHO, which has been helping Cambodia investigate the deaths, said on Wednesday it was concerned the closures could cause alarm. The authorities, it said, were able to contain the spread.

"We did not recommend the closing of nurseries and primary schools because that would create unnecessary public panic," WHO representative Sonny Krishnan said in an email.

"The HFMD caused by EV-71 is under control by the Ministry of Health and ...(it has) the capacity to contain it."

He said the authorities were monitoring the situation and no new cases had been confirmed.

Neighboring Thailand has closed 18 schools in Bangkok to try to prevent a spread of various strains of hand, foot and mouth disease, of which there have been at least 12,500 cases nationwide since the start of the year.

Surveillance plan

The Ministry of Public Health has drafted a surveillance plan to try to prevent the EV-71 strain from taking a hold in Thailand.

In the Philippines, health officials said two children had tested positive for the enterovirus, but not necessarily the deadly EV-71. The two came from different regions and neither had traveled recently outside the country.

"We are still awaiting the (lab) results," said Eric Tayag of the Department of Health. "They are not in the same neighborhood. They are less than eight and are doing all right now."

He said health officials had wanted to "alert the public that hand, foot and mouth doesn't have to come from other countries. We have them, except that we don't have the form of the disease. Most likely it's not EV-71, but the laboratories should tell us that better."

Chinese authorities on Sunday said hand, foot and mouth disease had killed 17 people and infected nearly 35,000 in central Hunan province since June, according to the official Xinhua news agency.-GMA News (July 18, 2012 11:49PM)

Why there was no ASEAN joint communiqué

I am sharing this article with the Filipino people to inform them of the real state of the discussions during the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh on 09 July 2012. I was present during the discussions in the different sessions. I feel it is my duty to present to all Filipinos the efforts made by the Philippine Delegation to seek the unified support of ASEAN to the West Philippine Sea issue which affects not only its member countries but the region as a whole. Through this article, I hope to present the real picture during the Ministerial Meeting from the point of view of a Filipino, and in the process, correct the grave misimpressions generated by some who were not present during those meetings.

The non-issuance of the customary Joint Communiqué after the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia expectedly generated considerable reactions and commentaries because it was unprecedented in ASEAN’s 45 years of existence.

However, many of those reactions/commentaries were based on erroneous information. It is therefore essential to lay down the facts.

1. Fiction: There was no Joint Communiqué because ASEAN failed to agree on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. 

Never before has our regional association been as strained as it is today — and much of the blame might be put on the Philippine side.

Fact: ASEAN had already agreed on the key elements of the proposed Code of Conduct on the South China Sea for discussion with China. The Philippines was successful in having its suggested main elements included to give the Code the substance it requires.

The strain being felt by ASEAN is not attributable to the Philippines but it was reportedly due to the failure of the Chair to gain a consensus. 

Within the ASEAN framework, the Philippines needed to be resolute in giving primacy to national interest.

2. Fiction: The Philippine Foreign Minister denounced Chinese “duplicity” and “intimidation” in the South China Sea, souring the mood at the meeting designed to soothe tensions.

Fact: The “souring of the mood” was attributed by everyone who was there to the failure of ASEAN to issue a Joint Communiqué, resulting from the Chair’s firm position not to reflect the recent developments in the South China Sea despite the view of the majority of the Member States that these developments impinge on the overall security of the region. 

On the reference to “duplicity and intimidation,” the Philippines forged an agreement with a neighbouring country for the simultaneous pull-out of all vessels inside the shoal, which we undertook in good faith last 04 June. Furthermore, the neighbouring country agreed to remove its barrier at the entrance of the shoal. Yet to this day, the neighbouring country has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement and has maintained its ships inside and outside the shoal, as well as its barrier, in its aim to establish effective control and jurisdiction in the shoal and surrounding waters. 

3. Fiction: The Philippines “unilaterally escalated the rhetoric on the matter of contested islets and shoals – and then invoking the entire ASEAN community as a party to the confrontation.”

Fact: The Philippines has been approaching the issue with patience and tolerance as we endeavour to avail ourselves of all peaceful means to resolve it in accordance with the rule of law. However, the neighbouring country decided to escalate the tensions resulting in the deployment of numerous vessels, as high as 96 at one point, as against our one vessel. The Philippines could not perpetually remain mute over the brazen acts of infringement on its territory and intimidation by a powerful country.

4. Fiction: “The very public statements emanating from Manila did not benefit from careful, quiet consultations with our regional partners.”

Fact: As early as 2010, the Philippines has been conducting bilateral consultations with its ASEAN partners on the issue of competing claims in the West Philippine Sea. In 2011, it proposed a framework in resolving the dispute within the ASEAN forum. This process of consultation led to the ASEAN decision to refer the Philippine proposal to ASEAN’s maritime legal experts.

5. Fiction: “In the view of some of our neighbours, Manila failed to do the patient work of consensus-building necessary for the association to take an explicit and common position on a complex territorial issue.”

Fact: Precisely mindful of ASEAN’s consensus-based decision-making process, the Philippines has been in continuous consultations with its ASEAN partners resulting in the ASEAN Senior Officials drafting of an “ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the Situation in Scarborough Shoal” on 24 May. On 25 May, Secretary del Rosario wrote the ASEAN Chair requesting that such Statement be referred to all ASEAN Foreign Ministers for their consideration. Several Foreign Ministers endorsed the issuance of such a Statement. One Foreign Minister, in particular, in his 01 June letter to the ASEAN Chair, stressed the “necessity for ASEAN to issue a timely statement by the Foreign Ministers (on the said issue) as our common effort to contribute to the maintenance of an environment conducive in the region which is of interest (to) all of us.” 

At the 45th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Secretary del Rosario discussed the situation in Scarborough Shoal. The text of the proposed Joint Communiqué’s item/subhead on the “South China Sea” was drafted by the ASEAN foreign ministers and several revisions were proposed to make the text acceptable to all. However, the Cambodian Chair consistently rejected any proposed text that mentions Scarborough Shoal.

In the Singaporean Foreign Ministry’s website, the Singaporean Foreign Minister K Shanmugan said that it was a blow to ASEAN credibility that “it was unable to deal with something that is happening in our neighbourhood and not say something about it.” He added, “there’s no point in papering over it. There was a consensus among the majority of countries. The role of the Chair in the context is to forge a complete consensus amongst all. But that did not happen.”

6. Fiction: Phnom Penh’s strong position against the Philippine position in ASEAN is quietly shared by Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

Fact: As explained in item no. 5, this view of the Philippines was strongly supported by many countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam.  Even the ASEAN Secretary-General expressed support.

7. Fiction: “When the ministerial meeting failed to issue a communiqué, the Philippine side bitterly accused Cambodia of, well, doing Beijing’s bidding.”

Fact: We did not accuse Cambodia of doing Beijing’s bidding, choosing to remain silent; other quarters preferred not to be silent.

8. Fiction:  “…our strategy is in disarray. After the embarrassing outcome of the Phnom Penh meetings, we definitely have no ASEAN card to play in the confrontational path we chose to take against China.”

Fact: The Philippines has a three-track approach to advance its interests in the West Philippine Sea – political, diplomatic and legal track. ASEAN is part of the political track.

The Philippines was able to gain the support of the majority of ASEAN Member State as well as that of the ASEAN Secretariat on the need to mention Scarborough Shoal in the proposed Joint Communiqué. 

In all ASEAN meetings and in other fora, the Philippines has consistently advocated a peaceful and rules-based approach in resolving maritime territorial disputes in accordance with international law, specifically the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and has been engaging China in continuing dialogues and consultations. 

We are resolute in maintaining this strategic three-track approach.

9. Fiction: Our new Ambassador to Beijing intimated that one of the difficulties she must deal with in her assignment is a view among her superiors that sees China as an enemy.

Fact: This is clearly a misquote of what has been written. The mandate of the DFA is to reaffirm that we are seeking positive relations with China as a friend and partner and that the bilateral agenda should be vigorously pursued while abstracting contentious issues which should be dealt with separately.

10. Fiction: The Philippine Foreign Minister, in disgust, had walked out of the meeting. 

Fact: Secretary del Rosario stayed to finish the meeting and was steadfast in promoting and defending the Philippine national interest. 

In fact, even when his microphone went silent when he first began to speak on the Scarborough Shoal issue, Secretary del Rosario strongly articulated the Philippine position and proceeded to conclude his remarks.-GMA News (July 18, 2012 12:40PM)

World's texting capital Philippines to use SMS for disease alert system

The Philippines will start using an SMS-based early warning disease surveillance system in a move to speed up reporting of disease outbreaks in real time and allow health officials to respond to emergency situations.

Called Surveillance in Post Extreme Emergencies and Disasters (SPEED), it serves as an early warning disease surveillance system that aims to detect any unusual increase in cases of communicable and non-communicable diseases in areas hit by calamities.

SPEED is the first of its kind in the world which uses SMS-based real-time reporting during disasters.

“I believe reporting via SMS is the way forward. The technology is widely available, affordable and easy to use especially in the Philippines where everybody has at least one cell phone and Filipinos are known for their love of texting,” said Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, country representative of the World Health Organization during a press briefing Wednesday.

The Department of Health has started a three-day national simulation of the new system to test the readiness of its health workers and health emergency managers from 80 provinces, 1,500 municipalities, and 137 cities in the country.

The WHO has turned over what it calls a SPEED Health Facility Code book that assigns a code for each health facility, allowing trained personnel to get quick access to some 11,395 health facilities including barangay health stations, government and private hospitals, and identified evacuation centers.

Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag said SPEED was used during the leptospirosis outbreak in Cagayan de Oro, which was severely hit by Typhoon Sendong.

“It was considered as the worst outbreak of leptospirosis in recent memory,” said Tayag, adding that the system allowed health authorities to institute measures to contain the disease from further spreading.

SPEED is expected to be useful in reporting disease outbreaks in displaced populations during disasters.

Under the system, trained health workers are the ones to report on diseases, guided by a list of 21 syndromes and the SPEED Health Facility Code book. Aside from texting, they can also fax or send their report via the internet.-Interaksyon (July 18, 2012 4:16PM)

China's Sansha City - 'administrator' of Spratlys - holds first People's Congress

Sansha City, which China recently created to administer its claimed areas in the Spratlys, is holding its first People's Congress.

The city was created last month to administer the disputed Spratly Islands, which China claims and calls Sansha.

The Philippines, which also claims ownership of the Spratlys, has protested the creation of the city.

Tensions have risen in the disputed territory since the Philippine Navy intercepted Chinese fishing vessels at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal off Zambales province.

This week, a 30-vessel Chinese fishing fleet began operating in waters around the Spratlys.

"The Sansha people's congress, the legislative body of the city, will have 60 delegates directly elected, and its Standing Committee will have 15 members" and its seat of government "will be ... on Yongxing Island, part of the Xisha Islands," the  website said.

The new city is supposed to have jurisdiction "over 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands, covering 13 square kilometers in island area and 2 million square kilometers of water," the site said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario reiterated that the government has "already protested by diplomatic note the establishment of Sansha City because the establishment and jurisdiction of Sansha City violate Philippine territorial sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island group, also known as the Spratly Islands."

He said the Kalayaangroup is covered by Republic Act 9522, which defines the archipelagic baseline of the Philippines.

Reacting to the news, the  mayor of the Kalayaan Islands in Palawan said there is no cause for concern over the Sansha City people’s congress.

In fact, Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon told the people’s congress could even be seen as a positive step towards "peaceful co-existence" in the diusputed territory.

“I even look at that as a welcome idea because one day who knows that would pave the way for a peaceful co-existence in the contentious area because that (Sansha City) is a local government," Bito-onon said.

Besides, he said, "Our (Philippine) islands are not included (in the people's congress).”

He said that the people’s congress was mostly likely held on the basis of the regime of islands doctrine.

"We cannot deny that in the Spratlys, China occupies nine reefs, so these will report to Sansha City. But the 20 islands of Vietnam report to Vietnam. Our own islands report to us," he said. -Black Pearl Media (July 18, 2012 04:05PM)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


ASEAN Blogger

China forming Spratlys government

China has started forming the backbone of a local government that will rule over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Chinese media announced Tuesday.

State-owned news agency Xinhua  said a legislative body's organizing committee has been set up for Sansha, a prefecture-level city of Hainan province that was etablished to govern the Spratlys.

The commitee will organize Sansha's first municipal congress, approve the electoral commission for the election of delegates, and convene the first plenary meeting of the local congress.

The government seat of Sansha will be stationed on Yongxing Island in the Paracels, which are also being claimed by Vietnam.

A formal political-legislative body will ensure the safety of Chinese fishermen and oil and gas extraction operations in the South China Sea, according to Wu Shicun, director of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

The Hainan provincial Tourism Development Board also plans to launch tourist cruises from Haikou to the Spratlys by the end of the year.

Acording to Xinhua, Sansha city has more than 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs in the disputed Spratlys, Paracels, and the Macclesfield Bank covering 13 square kilometers in island area and 2 million square kilometers of water.

China is claiming ownership of the resource-rich Spratlys and nearby waters, even areas inside the exclusive economic zone of other countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam.-ABS-CBN News (July 18, 2012)

Indonesia president warns over South China Sea

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Tuesday said there would be no quick resolution to competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, warning tensions must not be allowed to escalate.

China essentially claims the whole of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons and straddles strategic shipping lanes vital to global trade.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the waters, causing regular diplomatic flare-ups.

"It is safe to assume, given the extreme complexity of the overlapping claims, that we will not see a diplomatic resolution of the South China Sea disputes in the short term, perhaps even in the medium term," said Yudhoyono.

"Short of a comprehensive resolution, the claimants must do their best to manage and contain the disputes to make sure that it does not escalate or worse lead to the outbreak of military clashes," he told the First Strategic Review Forum in Jakarta.

Divisions over members' territorial disputes with China prevented the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from issuing its customary joint statement at the conclusion of its meeting in Cambodia on Friday.

It is not the first time Yudhoyono has expressed exasperation over the issue.

"Things do not necessarily have to be this slow," he told ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Bali in July last year.

"We need to send a strong signal to the world that the future of the South China Sea is a predictable, manageable and optimistic one."-Black Pearl (July 18, 2012 4:05AM)

Pinoys 3rd most upbeat consumers in the world

Filipinos are the third most optimistic consumers in the world, after Indonesians and Indians, according to a survey conducted by global information company Nielsen.

The Nielsen survey showed that global consumer confidence dipped in the second quarter from the first quarter of the year.

However, Indonesians topped the survey, overtaking Indians as the world's most upbeat consumers.

Filipinos ranked third in Nielsen survey, followed by Saudi Arabians and Malaysians.

The Nielsen survey comes on the heels of the latest Grant Thornton International Business Report which showed the Philippines improved to the second spot in the second quarter of the year. In the global business optimism survey, the Philippines registered an average 90 percent, behind Peru’s 96 percent, and at par with Chile.

Reuters reported that Indonesia's shift to top spot in the survey was a further sign that the country, with its big domestic economy and an expanding middle class, is weathering the global slowdown better than some other emerging markets.

"In Indonesia, consumer optimism has been evident all year fuelled by investment rating upgrades from Moody's and Fitch," said Catherine Eddy, managing director, Nielsen Indonesia.

"The market is very buoyant among consumers and investors right now and with a population of 240 million, Indonesia is possibly the next big bastion after China and India."

Consumer confidence fell across major emerging economies China, India and Brazil in the second quarter.

A worsening euro zone crisis, sluggish U.S. jobs growth and slowing growth in China and India combined to dent consumer confidence globally in the second quarter with concern over the economic outlook and job security the biggest concerns.

Fifty-three percent of global respondents were optimistic about their personal finances, but that was down 2 percentage points from the first quarter. Asia-Pacific respondents reported the biggest decline in favorable financial perceptions, declining four points to 59 percent.

The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index dipped 3 points in the second quarter to 91. A reading below 100 signals consumers are pessimistic about the outlook.

There was however no increase in the number of consumers who said they were in recession, which stayed at 57 percent.

"Things are not necessarily getting worse for the average consumer, they just aren't getting better. That number, however, could change depending particularly on how the situation in Europe evolves," said Venkatesh Bala, chief economist at The Cambridge Group, a part of Nielsen.

The survey was conducted between May 4 and 21 and covered more than 28,000 consumers polled on the Internet across 56 markets.

U.S. consumer confidence fell by 5 points to 87 in the second quarter, as reported last month, one of the biggest decreases globally.-ABS-CBN News (July 17, 2012 5:22PM)

Philippine Air Force to buy 10 attack helicopters

Ten attack helicopters will be purchased from Italy for the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

The PAF will also get 21 Huey helicopters, three medium-lift fixed-wing aircraft and 12 lead-in jet fighters before yearend as part of the P75-billion Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino de la Cruz said the Philippines preferred the Italian helicopters as they are cheaper compared to those made in the United States.

“I was in Italy to look at some of the attack helicopters that were offered and hopefully, we will have them by the end of the year,” he said.

De la Cruz arrived Monday after participating in the Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom.

“I was able to take a first-hand look at some of the industry participants, talk to some of them and would now report to senior leaders in the AFP on the best options available for the country,” he said.

De la Cruz said the government is planning to get 12 jet fighters that are not so sophisticated for the pilots to easily adjust from lead-in to multi-role fighter jets.

The four contenders to sell the jet fighters are Italy, South Korea, Russia and the UK, he added.

The attack helicopters would replace the aging OV-10 Bronco and MG520 attack helicopters, and the three fixed-wing aircraft will augment the C-130 plane, he added.

De la Cruz said the acquisitions would be purely for defense purposes.

“The Armed Forces had concentrated on dealing with internal insurgency, until we realized the need for credible defense following the row with China over the Spratlys,” he said.

The Air Force has been given the authority to purchase medium- and light-lift aircraft as replacement for the C-130 Hercules troop and transport carrier, long-range patrol aircraft, radar, the SAA/LIFT and the attack helicopters, according to spokesman Col. Miguel Okol.

The Department of National Defense and the AFP are working to fast-track the approval of a total of 138 contracts mostly aimed at boosting air and naval assets.-ABS-CBN News (July 18, 2012)

More Chinese warships seen in Philippine waters

Philippine military surveillance aircraft have taken photos of a Chinese missile frigate that ran aground at Half Moon Shoal just off Palawan last Wednesday, as well as China's operations to free the vessel.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said the frigate was "refloated successfully" before daybreak Sunday and returned to China.

Five other warships belonging to the People's Liberation Army Navy were also seen in Philippine waters on Saturday, based on the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) surveillance.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, said it is waiting for a report from the Coast Guard regarding a large Chinese fishing fleet near Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef, which is just 170 nautical miles west of Palawan.

"If the Coast Guard confirms the report, the government will immediately file a protest with the Chinese government," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez.

Chinese state media on Monday released video footage of the fishing vessels.

China Central Television (CCTV) said it is the largest fleet ever to fish in the Spratlys, which Beijing refers to as the Nansha Islands.

The video clip shows fishermen preparing the refrigeration equipment of one supply ship where the fish will be stored.

Coast Guard tracking Chinese fleet

A Philippines military official said the Coast Guard is tracking the Chinese fleet.

Navy ships will be sent to the area if the Coast Guard will need help, Armed Forces spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

"As far as we are concerned, whenever told to do so, like for example assist the Philippine Coast Guard, then we will be in the area," he said. "The Coast Guard is in charge of policing the area."

"The mandate of the Armed Force of the Philippines is very clear. We are the implementor so whenever told upon by higher authorities, we will just execute. We execute orders, so whatever is the order handed down to us, we will just execute," Burgos added.

"Our patrols are continuing. The Philippine Navy is also patrolling our shores, in coordination with the Philippine Coast Guard, while our Philippine Air Force is patrolling our skies also," he said. "Coordination between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines is very critical when it comes to that."

Chinese state media announced Monday night that a fleet of 30 fishing ships from Hainan province started casting nets in waters near Yongshu or Fiery Cross reef.

The ships, which are being escorted by Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Command vessel Yuzheng-310, will stay for up to 10 days in the area.

China and Vietnam engaged in a deadly naval battle in waters near the reef in 1998, resulting in the death of 70 Vietnamese troops and the sinking of 2 Vietnamese vessels.

PH to continue to assert sovereignty

Meantime, Malacañang said the Philippines will continue to assert its sovereignty over its exclusive economic zone even as it abides by peaceful and diplomatic means to resolve its territorial dispute with China.

"We will maintain our sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone. That is something that we will not give up," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

"We will assert our sovereign rights over our exclusive economic zone," he added.

No decision, however, has been reached if the Philippines will redeploy its vessels back to Scarborough Shoal, which the Palace reiterates, is part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

"Our policy is to deescalate tensions… Pinag-aaralan pa kung ibabalik ang mga sasakyan… Wala pang decision," Lacierda said.

Lacierda maintains that the Philippines will abide by peaceful and diplomatic means in resolving the territorial dispute with China.

"We are certainly going to use very peaceful means to resolve the situation in the areas that we are, in Scarborough," he said.

He also said that the Philippine strategy in dealing with China, as discussed during a closed cabinet meeting last week, was "not hampered" by the absence of a joint communiqué following the ASEAN foreign minister's meeting.

PNoy thanks China for water project

Despite the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China, it's not all bad blood between the two countries.

President Benigno Aquino has thanked China for funding the MWSS' Angat Water Utilization and Aqueduct Improvement Project.

Aquino and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing attended the project's inauguration in Quezon City Tuesday.

The President did not mention the two countries' territorial dispute, but stressed the importance of respecting each country's dignity.

"Nagpapasalamat po tayo sa pondong ipinagkaloob ng bansang Tsina. Kaisa natin ang buong mundo sa ating adhikain: isang daigdig kung saan ang bawat indibidwal, bawat komunidad at bawat bansa ay iginagalang at kinikilalang may likas na dignidad," he said.

The Chinese ambassador did not also comment on the territorial row.

"Sorry, I came here just for this project. I'm not prepared to answer your questions. Some other time maybe," she said.

The China-funded project costs P5.2 billion.

Aquino said it will prevent the leakage of 394 million liters of water a day and improve supply for residents in Metro Manila, Rizal, and Cavite.-ABS-CBN News (July 18, 2102)

"ASEAN Way” founders in South China Sea storm

As Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario began to raise the sensitive issue of the South China Sea at one of last week's Asian summit meetings, his microphone went dead.

A technical glitch, said the Cambodian hosts. Perhaps something more sinister, hinted some diplomats who were frustrated by Chinese ally Cambodia's dogged efforts to keep the subject off the agenda.

That account and others, described to Reuters by diplomats with direct knowledge of the talks and who asked not to be identified, reveals how deeply Southeast Asian nations have been polarized by China's rapidly expanding influence in the region.

The fast-growing 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which aims to form an EU-style economic bloc by 2015, insists it remains united despite its failure for the first time in 45 years to agree a concluding summit statement.

But Reuters' interviews reveal deep discord and frayed tempers at last week's summit that are sharply at odds with the group's self-styled reputation for harmony and polite debate.

"It was one of the most heated meetings in the history of ASEAN," one diplomat said. Another described Cambodia, which holds the revolving ASEAN chairmanship this year, as "the worst chair", and said China had effectively bought its loyalty and that of some other states with economic largesse.

The breakdown has left attempts to craft a maritime "code of conduct" this year between ASEAN and China in tatters, raising the risk that growing incidents of naval brinkmanship over the oil-rich waters will spill over into conflict.

It also underlines the huge challenge facing the United States as it refocuses its military and economic attention on Asia in response to China's rise. The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claims set it against Vietnam and the Philippines racing to tap possibly huge oil reserves.

China breaches inner sanctum

The failure touched on a long-standing ASEAN fear, says Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy -- that lack of unity would allow foreign powers to exploit its differences.
"This is the first major breach of the dyke of regional autonomy," he said. "China has now reached into ASEAN's inner sanctum and played on intra-ASEAN divisions."

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has angrily rejected suggestions that China has "bought" Cambodia's support over the South China Sea dispute. China's foreign direct investment in Cambodia was $1.2 billion in 2011, almost 10 times that of the United States, according to an estimate by the government's Council for the Development of Cambodia. Chinese investment and trade has also surged in neighboring Myanmar and Laos.

Cambodia batted away repeated attempts to raise the issue about the disputed waters during the ASEAN meeting last week as well as the ASEAN Regional Forum, which includes Japan and the United States, according to diplomats present.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan was cut off in mid-address by Cambodia's foreign minister as he tried to bring up the topic, said several Southeast Asia diplomats.

Del Rosario's microphone malfunction occurred at a Thursday morning ministerial meeting, diplomats said, as he raised the issue despite Cambodia's insistence that it should not be discussed. A Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman said it was "craziness" to suggest that it was switched off deliberately.

On Friday, the last day of the summit, diplomats scrambled to avoid humiliation and agree an 11th-hour text for a joint statement. Regional giant Indonesia took the lead.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa even called his Singapore counterpart back from the airport to help draft a deal, the first ASEAN diplomat said.

Natalegawa drafted 18 different versions of the statement in a desperate effort to appease both Cambodia and claimant states the Philippines and Vietnam, the diplomat said. Natalegawa's staff scurried long distances through Phnom Penh's cavernous Peace Palace to get the latest drafts to printer machines.

But the attempts finally stalled over Cambodia's unwillingness to accept any mention of the Scarborough Shoal - the site of a recent naval stand-off between China and the Philippines - even after Manila accepted an Indonesian suggestion to change the wording to "affected shoal".

"The host should have played a bigger role, but he didn't," the ASEAN diplomat said.

Then came the fallout. The Philippines said it deplored the outcome and Del Rosario held a news conference in Manila to condemn an unidentified state's "increasing assertion" in disputed waters, warning it was raising the risk of conflict.

It was shockingly blunt language for a group that has long waved off criticism of its bland statements and lack of strong joint policies by citing the "ASEAN Way" -- its method of discrete, non-conflictual cooperation.

Code of conduct in doubt

China claims all of the South China Sea within a huge, looping "nine-dashed" line, and has rejected any "internationalization" of the dispute or direct bilateral negotiations. It has used the dotted line on maps dating back to the Nationalist government of the 1940s.

Last month Beijing said it had begun "combat-ready" patrols around waters claimed by Vietnam after voicing strong opposition to a Vietnamese law asserting sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands.

Now, the Philippines and Vietnam, which have both seen a sharp rise in naval stand-offs with China, want ASEAN's backing to help them stand up to the regional giant.

Without a strong ASEAN stance, those countries could push harder to expand alliances with the United States. In doing so, they must also be wary of losing out on closer trade and investment ties with China, Asia's dominant economy.

ASEAN and China were due to start formal negotiations on a code of conduct to help manage the dispute in September, hoping to finalize a deal by the next ASEAN summit in November. Last week's acrimonious breakdown puts that in doubt at a time when naval tensions are rising sharply.

"How can ASEAN play a central role if it doesn't have a common position?" Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Monday, announcing he would tour ASEAN countries this week to try to salvage a joint statement.

A hardening of positions on all sides, encouraged by growing nationalist sentiment over the dispute in several claimant states, is reducing the chance of a meaningful code of conduct being signed and increasing the chance of a naval clash.

Adding to the pessimism over a code of conduct is the slate of ASEAN chair nations for the next two years - low-profile Brunei next year followed by China-dependant Myanmar in 2014.

A binding set of rules would go some way toward making up for Asia's lack of security mechanisms to prevent naval tensions escalating into a full-blown conflict.

"NATO and the Soviet Union had those kinds of mechanisms in place. If anything happened there were the rules of the game in place," said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"There's no rules of the game in place here."-GMA News (July 17, 2012 10:32PM)