SINGAPORE — President Duterte said here he will push for the conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea during the Asean-China Summit “at all costs.”
Duterte said everything is going well between China and the rest of the world, but noted that the Philippines is tied to a mutual defense treaty with the United States which keeps it from telling the Western superpower to stay away.
The US had said in the past its commitment to come to the country’s aid, under the MDT, in case of an invasion or armed aggression, is “iron-clad.” However, Duterte has repeatedly called out Washington for failing to move decisively to stop the decades-long, incremental Chinese occupation of Philippine-claimed maritime features in the SCS–and then belatedly castigating Beijing after Manila won its case in a UN arbitral tribunal in July 2016.
“I will focus on the COC. Everything has been excellent between China and the rest of the Asean except for the fact that there’s a friction between the western nations and China. I am worried and I expressed it last night because we have a defense treaty, a mutual defense treaty with the US, and . . . some serious miscalculation can . . . you know, and because of the treaty I ‘d like to [address] China that is why at all cost we must have the COC,” Duterte told reporters here on the sidelines before the Asean-China Summit.
Under the mutual defense treaty signed in 1951, the parties agreed through ways separately and jointly, by self-help and mutual aid, to maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.
Asean has also failed to craft a COC in the past 15 years even under the Philippines’ Asean Summit chairmanship in 2017.
However, the President said China must also signal to the Philippines what kind of direction it wishes their bilateral relations to take insofar as the maritime dispute is concerned.
“So you’re there, you’re in possession, you occupied it, then tell us what route shall we take and what kind of behavior,” he said.
In his intervention during the working dinner on Tuesday, Duterte also said the country is prepared to do its part as the country coordinator of Asean-China Dialogue Relations until 2021.
“We are committed to work with all concerned parties in the substantive negotiations and early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct,” he said.
“We likewise reaffirm our commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. This includes the peaceful settlement of disputes, the exercise of self-restraint, and the freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he added.