By Jeanne Michael Penaranda
MANILA – Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must remain united in pursuing peace, stability and prosperity in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte said at the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits and Related Summits via video conference.
Also at the meeting, President Joseph Biden Jr. said the United States would stand with Southeast Asian allies in defending freedom of the seas, democracy and human rights.
Biden also said he backed efforts to hold the Myanmar junta accountable to its commitments to peace.
Duterte also called on his ASEAN counterparts to stand with Myanmar in solving its crisis peacefully for the welfare of its people.
Duterte welcomed President Biden to his first participation to the ASEAN-US Summit, underscoring the longstanding relations between ASEAN and the US and thanked him for his support to the Philippines in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic through donation of millions of doses of vaccines and other medical supplies and equipment.
“We need to further strengthen bilateral, regional and international cooperation to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines and medicines,” Duterte added.
The US has so far delivered more than 24 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines via the COVAX facility, the global vaccine-sharing program backed by the World Health Organization, according to the US Embassy in Manila.
Duterte underscored the need for sustained political dialogue, economic engagement and socio-cultural ties to further strengthen the ASEAN-US Strategic Partnership.
“President Duterte asserted the importance and need for ASEAN Centrality even as he acknowledged the United States’ commitment to work with ASEAN, especially on maritime security and domain awareness issues,”the statement said.
The President said arrangements such as the Australia, United Kingdom and US trilateral security partnership “must complement and not complicate our working methods for cooperation.”
Duterte told the ASEAN leaders that the regional bloc should pursue peace initiatives in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award that favored the Philippines.
“We have come a long way in keeping the peace and promoting prosperity in our region. We must not allow those with diverging interests to make our efforts fail,” he stressed.
During his intervention at the 24th ASEAN-China Summit, President Duterte urged countries to translate their commitments into action regarding the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in the midst of the evolving geopolitical situation in Asia.
“Talks should not remain empty rhetoric. They should be translated into action to fortify the trust and confidence we have cultivated through the years. Acta non verba. Deeds, not words,” the President said
As claimants craft a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the President lauded the Philippines’ contribution to the substantive progress in the second reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text, as the country reaffirms its commitment to the conclusion of an effective and substantive COC.
Noting 2017-2027 as the Decade of Coastal and Marine Environmental Protection in the South China Sea, the President reiterated the Philippines’ call for holistic efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity and the marine environment.
Also during his intervention, the Filipino leader pointed out that a dynamic ASEAN-China cooperation puts both sides in a formidable position to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, address climate change and manage geopolitical issues.
He expressed his gratitude to China for supporting ASEAN’s pandemic response, particularly by making life-saving vaccines global public goods.
ASEAN’s road to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be long and difficult as the region reels from the impact of the contagion, the President said during the 38th ASEAN Summit.
He emphasized the need for a phased and comprehensive implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and called for the immediate establishment of the ASEAN Centre on Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.