China yesterday rejected a proposal from the Philippines calling for a moratorium on activities to end tension in the South China Sea, as Beijing said it could consult with states individually and Asean to settle disputes.
“If the Philippines would like to carry out the plan then it should revoke the international arbitration in the first place,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters.
China would employ a dual-track approach to deal with the South China Sea issue – direct consultation with claimants, and engaging all of Asean to have a code of conduct, he said.
The Philippines, which is a claimant state in the sea and has territorial conflicts with China, proposed its Triple Action Plan as a framework to cool escalating tension in the troubled sea.
However, minister Wang said the meeting between China and Asean yesterday, which he co-chaired with Thai Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow, did not specifically discuss the Philippines’ proposal.
Thailand is the current coordinator for Asean in dealing with China and Sihasak is acting foreign minister.
Manila’s three-step plan comprised immediate, intermediate and final moves to handle what it called “provocative and destabilising” activities in the sea.
“As an immediate approach, the plan calls for a moratorium on specific activities that escalate tension in the South China Sea. This approach brings to fore the need for a more concrete definition of paragraph 5 of the Asean-China Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea (DOC),” the Philippines’ statement said.
The 5th paragraph of DOC says parties should exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes. The DOC was signed since 2002 but it is a not a legally binding document.
To Beijing’s concern, Manila has already submitted its dispute with China for international arbitration. Beijing rejects this move and Wang Yi said the Philippines had jumped from step one to step two.
The Philippine proposal for China to adhere to a moratorium on any action that may be seen as provocative is similar to a US idea to contain China in the Pacific, a diplomatic source said.
Asean, which has member states such as the Philippines and Vietnam that have territorial conflicts with China, is engaging with Beijing to try to fully implement a code of conduct to control countries’ behaviour in the sea.
Wang told a press conference after the meeting: “In our view, if any proposals are designed to prevent future complication and escalation of the situation, that is not necessary because there are provisions addressed in the DOC.
“And for those proposals that want to counter the DOC direction, we think they are not constructive and thus they are not able to be adopted.”
Sihasak said the push to get a legally binding code of conduct had made a lot of progress over the past year since they began working on this. The next round of consultation on the code of conduct would be in October in Thailand – to begin the process of drafting of the code, he said. Both sides agreed in the meeting yesterday to seek an early conclusion for the code of conduct, he added.
“We also would like to see an ‘early harvest’ – meaning measures to be undertaken in the immediate term to ensure peace prevails on the ground,” he said.
Wang said he expected the ‘early harvest’ could yield results – as an agreement on a paper of common elements to put into the code of conduct by the end of this year.
In the meeting between Asean and Chinese, ministers also discussed cooperation to enhance economic links including the establishment of a China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Sihasak said Thailand was interested in joining as a founding member.