BIDEN COMMITS TO ASIA, FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION As Marcos admits no progress on ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct

By ALFRED GABOT

Editor in Chief

 

MANILA/PHNOM PENH – Meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their partners during their summit meeting in Cambodia’s capital, U.S. President Joe Biden vowed his country’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific as he emphasized the importance of freedom of navigation in the East and South China seas.

Biden’s pledge was made amid the growing tensions between the United States and China over Beijing’s allegedly excessive maritime claims, massive reclamation and military buildup in the South China Sea which had encroached on the West Philippine Sea.
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China has lately also increased it pressure on Taiwan, while North Korea continues with a barrage of ballistic missile tests over its rival South Korea.

This developed as Biden pledged “iron clad” protection of the Philippines under its military agreement with that country amid the tensions with China.
At the same time, President Marcos reported after attending the ASEAN leaders summit that the regional group has not hastened the approval of a proposed Code of Conduct of nations in South China Sea.
Marcos, however, said that China has assured him of peace and cooperation, and discounted possible attacks on Taiwan and the Philippines.
Biden, who will next attend the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, has sent the US highest official so far, Vice President Kamala Harris, to Manila and Palawan to discuss economic and security concerns.

Meanwhile, the United States has earmarked $66.5 or around P3.8 billion for the construction of facilities in Armed Forces installations in five more sites covered by its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Cagayan de Oro City starting next year.

The five new sites is in addition to five earlier sites covered by EDCA to help the Philippines prepare for disasters or possible conflict with its neighbors.

 EDCA, which seeks to bolster defense relations between the two countries, allows US to pursue activities at “agreed locations” for training, transit, support and related activities, refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels, temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel; deploying of forces and materiel and other activities approved by the two sides.

The two sides acknowledged in the agreement that prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel enhance their “individual and collective defense capabilities.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro said the US  proposed the inclusion of five more AFP facilities added to the list – two in Cagayan, and one each in Zambales (specifically Subic), Palawan and Isabela. Bacarro, however,  said the proposal is still subject to the approval of the defense and foreign affairs departments.

“Currently, $66.5 million is earmarked for the implementation of approved EDCA projects at the Agreed Locations. These are projects that are slated for implementation in the next two years,” said Andolong.

“The projects include construction of training, warehouse and other facilities at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga, Fort Ramon Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Airport Base Station in Cagayan de Oro,” said Arsenio Andolong, the AFP spokesman.
Earlier, the United States also offered to upgrade at least 12 of the military choppers that the Philippines is acquiring after scrapping a deal to buy heavy-lift aircraft from Russia.

The upgrade could be done using the $100 million in foreign military financing (FMF) that the US State Department wants to provide the Philippines after it terminated a deal for 16 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia, said Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez.

Marcos said no progress has been made on the conclusion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, even as ASEAN leaders have raised the need to finalize one during the ASEAN Summits in Cambodia

“Well, nothing new actually has happened in terms of the code of conduct. We all just restated over and over again. Kailangan na magkaroon ng code of conduct. Because to be very, very clear about what it is that we are agreeing upon, eh kailangan may code of conduct na tayo. So ‘yun lang. That’s as far as you can go especially pagka ganyan,” Marcos explained upon arrival from the ASEAN meeting.

Marcos was among the ASEAN leaders who had pressed on the matter during his interventions in the ASEAN-China Summit and ASEAN-East Asia Summit.

“Paulit-ulit na sa sinabi ko, it is urgent. It is becoming more and more urgent and we really should, the negotiations and the finalization of the code of conduct. There’s been some progress in the past year but we really need to have the actual code of conduct, already finalized and already in place as soon as possible,” Marcos said.

The Philippines and many other nations have in the past been calling on China to adhere to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which partly states that they “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

“Pretty much everybody” raised the importance of maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the South China Sea, Marcos said.

What was common also among the ASEAN leaders, Marcos noted, was the need to follow the international laws when dealing with the South China Sea issue.

“Everybody, including the Chinese, says we follow UNCLOS and the international law. So at least that position of ASEAN is clear,” he said.

On the issue of Taiwan’s independence from China, Marcos voiced out that ASEAN should not interfere in the matter.

“So sinasabi namin, okay, we are still following the One China Policy but it is, we just want to peace. ‘Yun ang aking ano, sinasabi ko. It is, we follow the One China Policy, dapat wala kami — it’s an internal matter,” Marcos said.

“We believe that Taiwan is part of China but you must resolve those issues peacefully. ‘Yun lang naman ang hinihingi ng ASEAN. Huwag magkagulo,” he added.

Marcos also appealed to the United States to use its global influence to contain soaring fuel prices which have already affected businesses and livelihoods.

Marcos made the appeal  in Phnom Penh, Cambodia while attending the 40th and 41st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits and Related Summits.

“We appeal as well to the United States to use its global influence to help ease the current global plight of rising fuel prices that we all have to deal with,” the Philippine leader said during the 10th ASEAN-US Summit led by US President Joe Biden.

“We also encourage the US’ long-term support for the implementation of the ASEAN Plan of Action on Energy Cooperation,” he added.

The OPS attributed the spike in pump prices to the war between Russia and Ukraine, citing “fears of supply disruptions amid the imposition of Western sanctions targeting the Russian economy.”

It added that the ongoing conflict poses a threat to global food and fertilizer supply which could subsequently affect Marcos’ drive to revitalize the agriculture industry to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Marcos also sits as the country’s agriculture chief.

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