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Asean defense execs back freedom of navigation on South China Sea

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has cited the importance of freedom of navigation and called for the implementation of the conduct of parties in the South China Sea amid the ongoing standoff between the Philippines and China over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

During the 6th Asean Defense Ministers Meeting in Cambodia, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said the Asean was one in reaffirming its commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

“We are also one in our affirmation to work toward the adoption of a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that will further promote peace and stability in the region,” Galvez said.

“Likewise, together with the rest of the Asean, we underscore the importance of freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea as provided for by universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLoS),” he added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has been citing the UNCLoS in justifying the country’s claim over Panatag Shoal, which is located approximately 124 nautical miles off Masinloc in Zambales, well-within the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone stipulated under the UNCLoS.

The Asean, however, stressed that defense and military relations between its member-states and China would not be affected by the ongoing issue regarding the West Philippine Sea.
“When the issue of the West Philippine Sea was touched, the Asean defense ministers have concurred that the defense and military cooperation between Asean and China remained unaffected,” Galvez said.

“The ministers have also stressed that the Asean and China remain committed to seeking peaceful resolutions to the West Philippine Sea (dispute),” he added.

The Asean Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus also included Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States as partner-countries.
Meanwhile, two additional Chinese maritime surveillance ships (CMS) were monitored on Panatag Shoal.

A security official, who requested anonymity, said that as of latest monitoring, there were seven Chinese government-controlled spotted in Panatag Shoal, composed of three Chinese fishery law enforcement command ships (FLEC) and four CMS.

Last May 23, the DFA reported the presence of three Chinese FLECs and two CMS’s on Panatag Shoal. It subsequently filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing.

The standoff started last April 9 when the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar accosted eight Chinese fishing vessels caught with corals, giant clams and live sharks on Panatag Shoal. However, two Chinese CMS’s arrived in the area and prevented the arrest of the Chinese fishermen. 

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Mario J. Mallari | The Daily Tribune | June 1, 2012 | Article Link

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