BEIJING (via PLDT) – President Aquino said Chinese President Hu Jintao shared his wish for a more binding Code of Conduct in the West Philippine Sea – South China Sea to the Chinese – to ease tension in the disputed waters.
“At least, that adherence to the Declaration of the Code of Conduct – they actually even responded that there should be an implementing agreement already for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea. So that is very significant because before, it was a general statement of principles. Now, there’s a desire to really put in the implementing rules and regulations,” Aquino said late Wednesday.
“That is very, very clear. And then what is significant is that they will be pushing again for that Code – not just as some statement of principle but rather a binding agreement as to how each and every party in the dispute would conduct themselves,” Aquino said.
He said it was he who brought up the issue and “in fairness, I was allowed to talk first.”
While the visit was focused on trade and investments, Aquino said the statement from Hu was a positive development and that he was grateful to have been allowed by the Chinese president to raise the issue during their bilateral meeting Wednesday afternoon.
At present, China wants to resolve the issue bilaterally with each claimant country but the Philippines is proposing a multilateral approach.
China and other countries with claims to some islets, atolls, shoals or reefs in the West Philippine Sea have agreed to adopt implementing guidelines for the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea or West Philippines Sea.
“Our positions previous to this were really so disparate. They were too far apart. But in this particular instance, there was that adherence to peaceful means, getting our people to talk together fully to come to a common framework of resolving the issue. We did present… again, there were no objections to what we presented and in the same token, they responded – I won’t say that they agreed with our positions but it is not the same situation wherein both of us stayed so strongly in the sense that we have very widely variant positions,” Aquino said.
“I cannot say that we have agreed on our views but they will not remain too far apart,” Aquino said over coffee with Manila-based journalists at the China World Hotel.
“You have a statement from the superpower of the bloc saying, ‘let’s put it down in black and white exactly how to implement this,’” he said.
“Those are not the words that they used but the sentiment that was expressed is that perhaps it is time to… basically dealing with operationalizing that declaration into an actual Code of Conduct that guides everybody as to how to behave within these disputed territories,” he said.
“We brought it up; they responded in what could conceivably be, given the context, a very positive way – something that engenders a peaceful resolution rather than increasing the tensions. And I think, if I’m not mistaken, they did agree that this should not be the central part or the be-all or end-all of our relationship with them,” Aquino said.
“I think both sides were striving to talk about areas where we have agreements rather than the one or two areas that we are not in agreement with,” he said.
Last July in Bali, Indonesia, foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China adopted the implementing guidelines for the DOC, a move that was a step away from the development of a Code of Conduct.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that with the guidelines lacking teeth, the Philippines has proposed to have an ASEAN-China Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation in the West Philippine Sea, including Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands.
The disputed parts would be “enclaved” and designated as a Joint Cooperation Area, overseen and managed by a Joint Permanent Working Committee composed of claimants from ASEAN.
Del Rosario said that the lack of a clear distinction between the disputed areas from those that are not in dispute could affect the implementation of confidence-building measures in the conduct of marine research and marine environmental protection.
The President also clarified the Philippines was not setting up any new structures in Pagasa island, which was mentioned in an editorial of a newspaper here.
“Even before I left (Tuesday from Manila), that was brought to my attention so we checked. There is a plan to rehabilitate the airstrip we have on (Pagasa). The airstrip there is the only means where we re-supply (the needs of) our people there. They have a trip, isn’t it? Once every six weeks or something like that and the runway is such that the aircraft can do one pass and if it misses, sorry, I’ll see you in six weeks’ time,” Aquino said. He noted the airstrip has deteriorated.
“So categorically, there are no structures that we are building on anywhere there and the only plan that exists is to rehabilitate a structure that was already existing. But even that has not yet happened,” he said.
Aquino said there were mechanisms to resolve the dispute, including going to the United Nations, but he noted the meeting with Hu has spawned significant developments.
Aquino also urged Chinese companies on Wednesday to invest more in the Philippines and pledged they would receive open and equal access.
He said the economic climate is ideal for Chinese companies to invest in the Philippines’ growing tourism, agriculture and infrastructure industries.
“China is an economic power. I now invite the Chinese business community to take part in this opportunity to invest in an emerging economic force in Southeast Asia,” Aquino told the Philippines-China Economic and Trade Forum.
About 300 business leaders joined Aquino on the trip to China, the Philippines’ third-largest trading partner after the United States and Japan.
The two sides signed an agreement Wednesday on a five-year plan to boost trade six-fold to $60 billion. They also agreed to promote tourism and language training.
“I believe your visit to China this time will further deepen our friendship, promote our practical cooperation and elevate the strategic and cooperative relationship between our two countries to a new height,” Hu said.
Aquino is to visit Shanghai today and southern Fujian province tomorrow.
Beijing’s attempts in the last decade to increase its economic and political presence in the Philippines, a former US colony, floundered as Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was rocked by a series of corruption scandals over allegedly overpriced projects involving Chinese companies.
Aquino said his administration would ensure that Chinese investments are handled openly and in accordance with the law.
“What this simply means is that investors will not anymore have to rely on connections in order to set up shop. The rules will not be circumvented and the law will be followed,” Aquino said in his speech. “Most important among our efforts, however, is instilling a culture of transparency and integrity in government: weeding out corruption, and ensuring that businessmen... are met with a level playing field,” he said. – Aurea Calica, AP."