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Philippines, Myanmar discuss South China Sea dispute

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines and Myanmar have discussed the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue and reiterated the importance of the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in the area, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

The two countries agreed to collaborate on various fields of cooperation at the conclusion of the 2nd Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in Manila.

During the two-day second meeting of the JCBC, the DFA said there were discussions on the West Philippine Sea, particularly the formulation of a Code of Conduct (COC) that would provide guidelines and norms by which stakeholders are to conduct themselves in the West Philippine Sea.

Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin led his country’s delegation to the JCBC from June 14 to15.

DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippines and Myanmar agreed on the necessity for claimants to abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and to settle disputes peacefully through rules-based regime in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“They also agreed on the need to forge a Code of Conduct on the (South China Sea) which would provide guidelines and norms by which stakeholders are to conduct themselves in the West Philippine Sea,” Hernandez said.

The relevance of the implementation of the DOC and the usefulness of the Code of Conduct, which ASEAN and China are discussing in efforts to preserve peace, stability and unimpeded commerce and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, were discussed during the 25th ASEAN-US Dialogue last month in Manila.

The US called for a legally binding code of conduct to prevent escalation of tension in the disputed area.

China claims the entire South China Sea. Taiwan and four ASEAN members – the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam – also have overlapping claims to the territory.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh last April that the Philippines was pleased that the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) Working Group was working to identify the main elements of the regional COC.

Del Rosario said the Philippines believes that the COC must contain fundamental guidelines by which stakeholder-states are to conduct themselves in the West Philippine Sea and mechanisms on dispute settlement, including the appropriate structure for its effective implementation.

In drafting the COC, he said the two other fundamental elements it must contain are clarification and segregation of disputed from non-disputed areas in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS; and provisions relating to cooperative activities, as may be appropriate, for the disputed areas.

The foreign secretary reiterated that the Philippines adheres to the primacy of international law in resolving the disputes.

Del Rosario and his counterpart signed yesterday the agreed minutes of the second meeting of the JCBC where they reviewed the developments in bilateral relations with the view of further enhancing friendship and cooperation between the governments and peoples of the two countries.

They agreed to collaborate in various areas of cooperation such as political, trade and investment, cultural, agriculture, tourism and law enforcement.

The 2nd JCBC is a comprehensive ministerial-level political mechanism for the two countries to discuss areas of mutual interest.

On political cooperation, the two countries expressed interest in establishing the Philippines-Myanmar Parliamentary Friendship Association to encourage the exchange of visits, information and ideas between Filipino and Myanmar members of parliament.

Myanmar described the reforms being undertaken toward democratization.

On trade and investment, the two countries agreed to boost the current low level of trade through organizing and participating in each other’s trade fairs; exchanging information on specific economic and investment laws; discussing the creation of a joint trade commission; and establishing formal contacts between the two countries’ chambers of commerce.

Both countries reiterated their commitment to implement the 1998 Cultural Cooperation Agreement by concluding an Executive Program on Cultural Exchanges.

“I trust that after this meeting, follow-throughs will be made so that by the next JCBC in 2014, a more robust bilateral relationship will exist between our two countries and people who will benefit from this cooperative bilateral partnership,” Del Rosario said. 

Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar were established on Sept. 29, 1956.

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Pia Lee-Brago | The Philippine Star | June 16, 2012 | Article Link

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