QUEZON CITY, June 30 (PIA) -- The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reaffirmed the importance of peaceful co-existence in the region during the 36th ASEAN Summit via teleconference on June 26.
"We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea and recognized the benefits of having South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity," regional leaders said in a statement.
This happened after several leaders have raised concerns on land reclamations, recent developments, activities and serious incidents, involving claimant countries in the South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Roa-Duterte, in his intervention, also raised a concern on the rivalry between two powerful countries - United States and China - that is creating tension in the area on top of the country's worries in managing the COVID-19 crisis.
"The Great Powers will continue to draw us into their respective camps. We should continue to nimbly engage them in ways that most [benefit us]. We must insist on an open and rules-based international order that gives all countries - large or small - not just one voice, but an equal standing," he said.
Without going into detail, President Duterte also calls on parties to refrain from escalating tensions in the disputed area and to abide by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and commitments to the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
The UNCLOS is an international treaty that provides the comprehensive legal framework governing all activities and uses of the world's seas and oceans. It is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction, and legitimate interests over maritime zones.
The Code of Conduct, however, is a non-binding set of norms signed by the 10-member bloc and China to promote peace in the region and maritime cooperation in the contested waters.
Backing up President Duterte's call, the ASEAN specifically emphasized the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes without resorting to the use of threat or coercion by following the universally recognized principles of international law.
"We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS," regional leaders statement reads.
The ASEAN community, through the chairmanship of Vietnam, has been pushing for a legally binding code of conduct that would strengthen governance arrangements among claimant countries.
President Duterte renewed his commitment, as a country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, to work on the early conclusion of an effective and substantive South China Sea Code of Conduct until 2021.
"We face real constraints in dealing with our deliverables. We must not lose sight of strategic interests in the [South] China Sea. We must find innovative ways and exercise flexibility to achieve our common goals," he said. (MTQ/PIA-IDPD)