Last update 7/2/2011 9:00:00 AM (GMT+7)

US, Philippines push for East Sea disputes in ASEAN forum agenda
VietNamNet Bridge - The United States and the Philippines have urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) to tackle current tensions in the East Sea when it meets later this month in Bali, Indonesia.

The Philippines and the US' Foreign Ministers.

“As a significant security forum, the issue of East Sea disputes will possibly be a primary topic in the ASEAN Regional Forum,” Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on June 30.

American Ambassador Harry Thomas concurred that the ARF “is an excellent opportunity to tackle the conflict in the East Sea.”

The ARF will convene in Bali from July 16 – 31 and bring together international security experts from ASEAN’s 10 member-countries and the association’s dialogue partners. ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Among the dialogue partners are the US, European Union, Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Russia.

Six countries have territorial claims on the East Sea. They are the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Approaches, solutions

Del Rosario said the issue can be approached from a maritime security perspective while Thomas urged the application of diplomatic solutions. “We don’t want to demonize China, we should not demonize China,” Thomas said.

The Philippines sent to the Chinese embassy in Manila a diplomatic protest on recent incursions into the East Sea.

Del Rosario was in Washington D.C. last week, where he met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last June 23.

“As I have said many times before, the United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and unimpeded, lawful commerce in the East Sea. We share these interests not only with ASEAN members but with other maritime nations in the broader international community,” Clinton said in her joint press conference with Del Rosario.

“The United States does not take sides on territorial disputes over land features in the East Sea, but we oppose the use of force or the threat of force to advance the claims of any party,” Clinton added.

Del Rosario responded by reaffirm the Philippines position on maintaining peace and enabling economic development of the contested waters and islands. ” There is need to segregate the non-disputed areas from the disputed areas. What is ours is ours, and what is disputed can be shared,” Del Rosario pointed out.

The Philippines and the US this year are marking the 60th anniversary of their Mutual Defense Treaty.

Clinton said the US in engaged in “discussions with the Government of the Philippines about what their needs are because it is up to them to decide how to deploy forces and what their highest priorities are… we certainly wish to do what we can to support the Philippines in their desires for external support for maritime defense.”

Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines has committed resources “to protect our national borders and ensure freedom of navigation and the unimpeded flow of commerce. We thus welcome the assurance from Secretary Clinton of the US commitment to honor their treaty obligations.”

Philippines welcomes US Senate resolution

The Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (DFA) welcomed on June 30 the unanimous approval of the United States Senate of a resolution condemning the repeated use of force by China in the East Sea and calling for a peaceful, multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia.

In a statement, DFA spokesman Ed Malaya pointed out that the resolution, introduced in the US Senate by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe and unanimously approved last Tuesday, supports the Philippine government’s proposal for the multilateral and peaceful resolution of competing claims in the disputed areas of the East Sea.

“It is imperative for concerned steps to ease tension in the area through dialogue and diplomacy,” Malaya said. “We urge all claimant-countries to seriously consider our proposal to transform the area from a zone of dispute into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship, and Cooperation (ZoPFF/C).”

The DFA thanked Webb and Inhofe for sponsoring the resolution. Webb is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on the Foreign Relations Committee and Inhofe is a ranking member.

The US resolution was prompted by the concerns of several countries in the region about China’s “pattern of intimidation” in the sea, Webb said.

China has rejected the US Senate resolution, insisting that the disputes are solely between countries in the region and are not the business of the United States.

Maritime Security/Tempo