Senators say ASEAN should talk about China bullying at sea


THE PHILIPPINES should talk to neighboring countries about China’s continued incursions in the South China Sea, according to senators.

In a statement, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Tuesday said diplomatic protests “may not be too helpful anymore” because China continues to ignore these.

“Perhaps China would not be so dismissive if we and our allies, both in the Asia-Pacific and the west, show we can band together to maintain a balance of power in the region, including the West Philippine Sea,” he said, referring to parts of the South China Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel also urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to reach out to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address Chinese aggression.

“The ASEAN should stand together against China’s bullying,” she said in a statement. “We should put our differences aside and work towards the common goal of opposing unfounded and overambitious Chinese territorial claims in the region.”

“The ASEAN should be able to compel China to reach a consensus on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea,” she added.

Ms. Baraquel said if ASEAN members do not adopt a common stand on South China Sea issues, “we cannot safeguard our own interests.”

Southeast Asian countries should hold a dialogue to come up with a stance and then engage China to form a framework for an ASEAN-China Code of Conduct, she added.

“An ASEAN coalition is, perhaps, the best way of assuring our territorial integrity, mutual security, and continued peace,” the senator said. “China has committed itself to a strategy based on its individual strength. But we, in the Philippines, with the help of the entire ASEAN, should resist.”

The Philippines last month filed a diplomatic protest against China after more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted moored at a Philippine-claimed reef in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Embassy said the reef is part of its territory and the vessels had taken shelter due to rough sea conditions.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday urged the remaining 44 Chinese vessels to leave, saying they had no reason to stay there anymore.

The Chinese Embassy reiterated that the reef is part of China’s Nansha Island, adding that the waters around the reef had been a traditional fishing ground for Chinese fishermen for many years.

A Philippine task force earlier cited potential overfishing and destruction of the marine environment, as well as risks to navigation safety because of the Chinese ships. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas