MANILA, Philippines – “What tension? What problem?”
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario criticized China on Monday, August 11, for supposedly keeping this mindset about the South China Sea.
For Del Rosario, China's refusal to "recognize" the problems in the contested sea makes it difficult for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to resolve the South China Sea disputes.
Del Rosario made the statement after China rejected the Philippines' proposal to freeze provocative activities in the disputed waters. (READ: PH hits China over sea plan: 'We're humoring ourselves')
The moratorium falls under the Triple Action Plan (TAP), which the Philippines recently proposed to the ASEAN.
The TAP aims to curb “specific” activities that raise tensions in the South China Sea. It also seeks to serve as a “more concrete definition” of Paragraph 5 the ASEAN-China Declaration of the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, a 2002 statement to maintain peace in the disputed waters.
Paragraph 5 of the DOC, a non-binding document, says claimant states should “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
“I think if ASEAN can make the point to China strongly that we should have a serious, effective implementation of the DOC, especially Article 5, as a starter, then I think we're in business,” Del Rosario said.
“But that would assume that China recognizes there's a problem,” he added. “As I said, they established that, 'What tension? What problem?' You can't solve a problem if you don't recognize that there is one.”
Philippines rejects 'prejudice'
Del Rosario pointed out that the ASEAN was “very supportive” of the TAP and, in a rare move, posed no objections to the initiative. “Everyone agreed that there was a problem.”
The ASEAN ministers, however, did not explicitly support the TAP in their joint communiqué after their meeting. Despite this, the Philippines said the ministers adopted “parts” of the TAP as “doable.”
Del Rosario said China, for its part, opposed the TAP “immediately, as soon as I came out with it.”
“If something comes to you then you oppose it, it means you're prejudiced. We don't want them to take a prejudiced view of this. We want them to take an objective, constructive viewpoint,” the Philippines' top diplomat said.
Del Rosario explained: “The TAP, if you take a look at it, is DOC-centered. And the message that I wanted to deliver is, TAP is good because it's DOC. If you don't accept TAP, then you don't believe in DOC. So let's stop talking about DOC, right? We're just humoring ourselves, 'di ba (right)?”
China: Philippines 'contradicts' proposal
China has rejected the TAP by saying the Philippines' behavior “contradicts” its own proposal, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Wang questioned the Philippines' historic case against China even as legal moves fall under the TAP's “final approach.”
Wang said: “If the Philippines wish to pursue its 3-step plan, it should withdraw its push for international arbitration and return to the first step....They've already skipped straight to the third step. Their behavior already contradicts their own proposals.”
Wang was apparently referring to the moratorium on provocative actions as the first step, and arbitration as the third step.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose clarified that the TAP shouldn't be understood in terms of “steps,” but as approaches that can be pursued simultaneously. (READ: Philippines denies violating own South China Sea plan)
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.