Territorial sea disputes seen to take spotlight during ASEAN ministerial meet


Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island group in the Soutb China Sea now occupied by China. Image credit- Dao Phu lam-Hoang Sa.

The territorial disputes in the South China Sea would likely steal the spotlight in this week’s Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting by the regional bloc’s 10 foreign ministers amid reports of China’s installation of anti-aircraft missiles on Woody Island.

At odds with China over disputed territories in the South China Sea (also known as the West Philippine Sea), Manila plans to tackle the issue at the meeting on Feb. 25 to 27 at the Laos capital of Vientiane.

The Philippine delegation led by Foreign Undersecretary Laura del Rosario is expected to raise maritime security, including Chinese missiles on Woody island in the Paracel group which is also jointly disputed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

China claims the sea nearly in its entirety including areas that overlap with Philippines and Vietnam territories, has objected to efforts to bring the sea disputes to any international arena.

While the Philippines has no claim over Woody Island, it has maintained that all claimants to the resource-rich waters should adhere to the rule of law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Philippines has voiced that parties must not use force or intimidation and adhere to the principles of a non-binding and non-aggression pact on the South China Sea signed in 2002 by China and Southeast Asian states.

Of the 10 ASEAN members, four have rival claims with China and Taiwan to the waters including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. Other ASEAN members are Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Philippine officials aim to push for its maritime security advocacy by calling for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the early conclusion of a legally-binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between China and the ASEAN.

The long-simmering territorial rifts have alarmed the rival countries as well as other Asian and western nations which fear the conflicts could turn nasty and restrict free access to the vital waters, also coveted for their potential oil and gas deposits and abundant fish stocks.

A final decision, Philippine diplomats said, is expected on or before May.

At Vientiane, the Philippines is expected to reiterate the commitments made at the ASEAN-US summit hosted by US President Barack Obama the past week. At the Sunnylands, California meeting the leaders expressed commitment to rules-based resolution to the South China Sea dispute and for the full respect for legal and diplomatic processes for the peaceful resolution of the maritime row.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who is stepping down as DFA Chief on March 7 due to health concerns, has appointed Laura del Rosario to represent him in the meeting. Both officials are not related. (PNA)

Below is the news about the installation of missiles in Woody island.

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