China, PH urged to ‘abide’ by Arbitral Tribunal decision

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in a press conference in Manila. Photo by Arianne Christian Tapao.

What the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers dared not mention, their three dialogue partners did.

Foreign ministers of Japan, Australia and the United States in a joint statement Monday called on the Philippines and China “to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal’s 2016 Award in the Philippine-China arbitration, as it is final and legally binding on both parties.”

This is in contrast to the ASEAN ministers’ joint communique that made no mention of the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal decision, which ruled that China’s all-encompassing nine-dash line is not valid, nor is there legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas within the line. (See PH wins: Arbitral court invalidates China’s 9-dash line)

But in a media briefing, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robiesperre Bolivar said the joint statement “contains the same principles that ASEAN adheres to,” adding that the Arbitral Tribunal decision will be implemented at the “proper time.”

In item no. 4 of the joint communique issued on Sunday, the Asean Foreign Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes with “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The joint statement of the three partners also urged the ASEAN members and China to implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi had earlier said it will only adopt the three-step negotiations on the Code of Conduct “if there is no major disruption from outside parties.”

Bolivar said the trilateral joint statement is a reiteration of the same principles agreed upon by the ASEAN “so we don’t see dissonance between what they said and what ASEAN already said.”

Meanwhile, the ministers also urged ASEAN members to “maximize pressure on North Korea,” strongly condemning the rogue state’s “unlawful pursuit of a nuclear weapon program and unprecedented ballistic missile activity since last year.”

ASEAN ministers on Sunday reiterated their grave concerns over Pyongyang’s missile launches and nuclear tests that seriously threaten peace, security and stability in the region.

But this did not sit well with North Korea, which on Monday was reported to have told ASEAN members they were not “morally qualified” to tackle Pyongyang’s nuclear program as they ignored the “hostile policy and nuclear threat” that Washington has imposed on them.

In a Monday evening press conference, foreign minister Taro Kono insisted that in various multilateral meetings he had attended, there was “almost consensus” among the countries that resolutions such as the United Nations Security Council resolution must be implemented.

This, after Washington has called for North Korea’s isolation in contrast to ASEAN’s stand to engage the rogue state. (See ASEAN to still engage North Korea amid US call for isolation)

The ministers also expressed concerns regarding the recent attacks by the ISIS-affiliated groups in Marawi City.

“The Ministers urged increased cooperation in the region to counter such terrorist activity and pledged their continued support for these efforts,” the statement said.

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