Guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon is now moored at the Changi Naval Base.
Changi Naval Base is now the center of the ongoing US-led naval exercises dubbed SEACAT (Southeast Asian Cooperation Afloat Training). The navies of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei are joining the naval maneuver.
“The exercise is led by the US Navy and is centered this year in Changi, where the exercise’s command and control center is located,” Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said.
It’s not clear if the US Navy destroyer is also taking part in SEACAT.
“Well, I could just surmise that there are lots of eavesdropping, surveillance and counter-surveillance activities now going on,” said a military official, who declined to be named. The CARAT exercise is set on June 28 to July 8.
At Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban said the military is prepared to deal with threats to the country’s sovereignty but expressed hopes diplomacy would prevail.
Tension in the East Sea is escalating by Chinese ships’ activities. Vietnam recently accused Chinese boats of disrupting oil and gas exploration in its waters. The Aquino administration already has protested at least six incidents involving alleged Chinese intrusion into its waters.
In February, Manila accused Chinese naval ships of harassing an exploration ship near Reed Bank, an area 80 miles or 130 kilometers west of Palawan.
“The overall strategy, we’re not going to engage in an arms race with them. We are not going to escalate the tensions there but we do have to protect our rights,” Aquino said.
6 ASEAN states join call for peaceful resolution
Six Southeast Asian countries have joined the Philippines in calling for a peaceful resolution and the use of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in resolving disputes in the East Sea.
Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Singapore arrived at the consensus during the 21st Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (SPLOS 21) from June 13 to 17 at the UN headquarters in New York.
The Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN in New York also voiced during the meeting the country’s rejection of the inclusion of areas within Philippine jurisdiction in the dispute.
The six countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stressed the need to maintain peace and security in the region. ASEAN has 10 members. The three other member-countries are Brunei, Cambodia, and Myanmar (formerly Burma).
“The rule of law is the bedrock of peace, order and fairness in modern societies. The rise of a rules-based international system has been the great equalizer in global affairs,” a statement from the Philippine mission read.
“Respect and adherence to international law have preserved peace and resolved conflicts. International law has given equal voice to nations regardless of political, economic or military stature, banishing the unlawful use of sheer force,” it said.
A statement delivered by Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat (CMOAS) Secretary-General Henry Bensurto, noted that “recent developments in the Recto bank have tended to broaden the concept of disputed areas in the East Sea to include even those waters and continental shelves that are clearly within the sovereignty and/or jurisdiction of the Philippines.”
“The Philippines firmly rejects any efforts in this regard. Such actions are inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Bensurto said.
“We expect nothing less from our international partners,” he added.
“In situations where disputes on maritime claims exist, UNCLOS provides clues as well as answers by which such maritime disputes could be addressed,” he said.
He also urged all parties to the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct in the East Sea to faithfully abide by the provisions in the declaration, particularly on the need to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
“The Declaration of Conduct expresses in a concrete way our collective goal for rules-based action by all concerned parties,” he added.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met on June 17 with the nine ambassadors and charges d’affaires of ASEAN member-states and briefed them on Philippine perspectives on recent developments in the East Sea.
No cause for upset
A “rules-based” multilateral approach to resolving disputes over some areas in East Sea should not upset China considering its own commitment to shun confrontation, Malacañang said on June 18.
“Our policy is to really have a rules-based, a multilateral approach to the settlement of the dispute. What we advocate is to actually for us to arrive at a peaceful resolution. We should really exhaust all diplomatic means,” deputy Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said over state-run radio dzRB.
Valte said international laws like UNCLOS should be the basis for settling the territorial dispute.
“Our statements have always been very clear,” Valte said.
She also welcomed Australia’s call on parties involved in the territorial spat to adherence to international laws like UNCLOS.
Australia voiced its position through its top ministers in a joint statement with Philippine officials in the 3rd Philippine-Australia Ministerial Meeting in Canberra last Thursday.
On Friday, the Philippines called on ASEAN member-states to take a common stand on developments in the East Sea.
Also last Friday, President Aquino insisted that the country won’t be bullied by China in a territorial spat over the Spratly Islands and that Beijing should stop intruding into Philippine waters.