Sunday, January 27, 2013

Asean common stand on China row pushed

The Philippines on Saturday welcomed Thailand’s proposal to find a common position among the Association Southeast Asian Nation over the dispute in  South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

Thailand’s plan cropped up even as the Philippines has already filed its case against China for its “excessive” claims on the contested waters.

Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Raul Hernandez  said that “any initiative that would support the effort to find peaceful and durable solutions in the disputed seas is welcome”.

In Singapore, Thai Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkaew  announced plans to hold separate talks with each of the countries that lay claim to the disputed areas, as attempts to resolve the conflicts failed in the past Asean summits.

Thailand acts as coordinator for Asean-China relations, with its role good from 2012 to 2015.

“Each country’s position on the matter differs, with domestic politics and nationalism major factors in determining how Asean countries have so far approached the topic,” Sihasak said.

He admitted that it is not an easy task to seek a common Asean position because it is critical to the various nations’ energy security.

The Philippines, as the founder of the regional bloc, assured that it would continue to work with the Asean but it would coordinate with them on the basis of international law.

“The Philippines will continue to work with Asean in advancing rules-based solution to the issue in accordance with international law including the Unclos (United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea),” Hernandez said.

Sihasik however admitted that it does not know whether negotiations with China would prosper since it would only depend on Beijing’s willingness to engage in talks.

He said he hoped  the change in China’s leadership in March will lead to a more “relaxed stance on the matter in Beijing”.

“Asean and China should look at the big picture and Beijing should not regard a common Asean position as an attempt to pressure the new leadership. Instead, a common position will reinforce a centralised Asean approach to regional security, something China will benefit from,” he said.-Manila Standard Today (January 27, 2013 12:01AM)

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