By MADEL R. SABATER
MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Saturday welcomed the six-point principle on the West Philippine Sea crafted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and thanked Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr. R. M. Marty Natalegawa for his efforts to reunite the 10-member regional bloc.
“Certainly, we welcome the efforts made by the Indonesian Foreign Minister. It’s a way moving forward,” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said yesterday.
He said the development is a big leap from the failure of ASEAN to issue a joint communiqué during its foreign ministers’ meeting in Cambodia last week.
Last week Natalegawa flew to four ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, in a bid to mend strained relations between the regional partners.
A six-point principle was agreed upon by members of the regional bloc Friday, including the full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Lacierda said the Philippines and Vietnam should not be blamed for the delay of a consensus among ASEAN Foreign Ministers.
“What happened during the forum should not be blamed on the Philippines,” he said, noting that it was the first time that a joint communiqué has not been issued.
The Philippines had wanted to include the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in a joint communiqué but Cambodia, which is this year’s ASEAN chair, refused to issue a communiqué.
The Philippines expressed disappointment over the absence of a joint statement, saying it was the first time in 45 years that it happened.
The principles include:
• The full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.
• The support for the guidelines of the DOC in 2011.
• The need for an early conclusion of a regional code of conduct on the South China Sea.
• The full respect for the universally-recognized principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
• The continued exercise of self-restraint and non-use of force by all parties.
• The peaceful resolution of conflicts in accordance with universally- recognized principles international law including the 1982 UNCLOS.
Hours after the ASEAN released the principles, China reasserted its sovereignty over disputed South China Sea islands.
The key issue of the South China Sea was disputes over sovereignty of ‘’the Nansha islands’’ – or Spratly islands – and their nearby islands, said a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.
‘’There are adequate historical and legal explanations for China’s sovereignty over the Nansha islands and nearby sea,’’ a spokesman for the ministry, Hong Lei, was quoted in the statement as saying.
China wished to ‘’comprehensively and effectively follow the new code of conduct in the South China Sea together with other ASEAN countries,’’ Hong said.
“In the context of the continuous emergence of the current global financial crisis and its deep influence, China and ASEAN share the same interest and responsibility in maintaining regional peace and stability and keeping Asia’s development momentum.’’
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which holds key shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.
ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei have vying claims to different areas, as does Taiwan.
Countries have faced off over the issue for centuries, but the failure of ASEAN last week to agree a joint closing statement for the first time in its 45-year history reinforced concerns the sea is fast becoming a global flashpoint.
A signatory to the UN Convention on Law of the Sea, China insisted that it was ‘’not an international treaty that settles nations’ sovereign territorial disputes, nor can it be used as a reference for resolving such disputes.’’
Malaysia and Brunei among other countries rely on the convention to claim territory they say falls within their economic exclusion zones as defined by the document.
A fleet of 30 Chinese fishing vessels arrived at what China calls Zhubi Reef in the Spratly Islands escorted by a navy patrol ship, state media reported on Monday. Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam also claim the reef.
The fleet was the largest ever to be launched from the province of Hainan, the Xinhua news agency reported.
China at the end of last month announced an upgrade to the city of Sansha to administer three hotly contested archipelagos: the Spratlys, Paracels and Macclesfield Bank.
At the same time, Beijing also declared nine oilfields in the South China Sea open for bids from foreign investors in areas overlapping with fields claimed by Vietnam.
China had ‘’an open attitude towards ASEAN countries’ discussion of the South China Sea code of conduct,’’ Hong was quoted as saying. —additional report from Deutsche Presse-Agentur