Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - China is open to holding talks with Southeast Asian nations on a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Returning from failed Southeast Asian talks in Phnom Penh, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Friday said discussions on the code of conduct should be made "on the basis of full compliance with the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) by all parties."
Yang's statement came after this year's meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ended in disarray over how to deal with China on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
China opposes efforts to bring the disputes into any international arena for discussions, arguing that the conflicts should be tackled only between Beijing and each of the rival claimants.
The Philippines will continue to work with Asean for a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea despite the bloc's failure to press it in Phnom Penh, the Philippine Palace said yesterday.
Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte made it clear, however, that the Philippines was disappointed that the Asean meeting ended without even a statement mentioning the Philippines' territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea.
Asean foreign ministers had agreed on key elements for the proposed code, but they failed to find common ground on how to deal with the touchy territorial disputes with China as their 45th annual meeting ended in Phnom Penh on Friday.
The meeting ended in acrimony, with the Philippines and Vietnam blaming the failure on Cambodia, an ally of China and host of the meeting, which blocked Manila's efforts to have its recent standoff with China in the West Philippine Sea mentioned in the customary joint statement.
No joint statement was issued after the meeting closed, the first time it happened in the bloc's 45-year history.
China rejected accusations that it had caused the failure, saying it was open to discussing a code of conduct with Asean and the talks should be made in compliance with the DOC.
The declaration was signed in 2002 by China and Asean during that year's ministerial meeting of the bloc, also held in Phnom Penh.
Yang said "an important principle of the DOC is to let sovereign states directly concerned resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means through friendly consultations and negotiations."
He reminded the proponents of the code of conduct that they and China "agreed to work on the basis of consensus toward the eventual formulation of a [code of conduct] in the South China Sea."
"What is essential is that all parties exercise self-restraint in keeping with the spirit of the DOC, and refrain from taking moves that will escalate and complicate the disputes and affect peace and stability," Yang said.
"China hopes that all parties will do more to enhance mutual trust, promote cooperation and create necessary conditions for the formulation of the [code of conduct]," he said.
Last week, Liu Weimin, a spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry, said Beijing was willing to discuss the code of conduct with Asean "when the conditions are ripe."
Asean groups the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the Asean meeting at Phnom Penh and urged the group to "complete a regional code of conduct in a timely fashion."
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said "the current situation in the West Philippine Sea deserved urgent attention from Asean because it has a direct impact on unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation in the region."
At the Phnom Penh meeting, Del Rosario said "the adherence of all countries in the region to a set of fair and transparent rules, as embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, will generate greater mutual trust and respect in the region."
Del Rosario denounced Chinese "duplicity" and "intimidation" in the West Philippine Sea.
"If Philippine sovereignty and jurisdiction can be denigrated by a powerful country through pressure, duplicity, intimidation and the threat of the use of force, the international community should be concerned about the behavior," he said.
Del Rosario was referring to the standoff between Chinese and Philippine ships at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea that began in early April and would have run longer had stormy weather in mid-June not forced Manila's vessels to withdraw and seek shelter.
In his statement, Yang asserted anew that Beijing's sovereignty over the Spratly group of islands in the West Philippine Sea and the adjacent waters was "supported by ample historical and legal evidence."
"Yet, given the complexity of the South China Sea issue, China has always called for shelving disputes and seeking joint development," Yang said.
Earlier this year, Del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the joint development of areas in the West Philippine Sea that "are clearly ours is not a viable solution" to the country's problem with China.
As for the potentially resource-rich Spratlys, the Philippines is "open to considering joint development in the disputed areas," Del Rosario said.
He said that during his meeting with two visiting former Chinese ambassadors to Manila, he reiterated the Philippines position that "we are open to inviting China in the Recto Bank (Reed Bank) as an investor to be governed by our laws."
Recto Bank, Del Rosario said, is an integral part of the Philippines and as such, cannot be be jointly developed. "To do so would be in violation of our Constitution," he said.
With reports from Christine O. Avendano and AP