Duterte urges ASEAN to show ‘self-restraint’ in South China Sea code talks

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President Rodrigo Duterte has urged regional and global leaders to maintain a peaceful environment by showing “self-restraint” while negotiating to resolve the territorial dispute on the South China Sea. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 3) — President Rodrigo Duterte has urged regional and global leaders to maintain a peaceful environment by showing “self-restraint” while negotiating to resolve the territorial dispute on the South China Sea.

During the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit Plenary in Thailand on Saturday, Duterte raised the South China Sea issue and reaffirmed the Philippines’ stance to settle the matter according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, to achieve this, he added that countries must ensure negotiations can proceed smoothly.

“ASEAN must therefore remain united...And we must use all the influence that we have, individually and collectively, to persuade parties to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation,” the President said during the summit.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a press briefing on Sunday said all countries present at the regional meet agreed that everyone should observe self-restraint "to avoid any activity that would lead to any more friction that would lead armed hostilities between and among countries in the region."

The country is currently working on a proposed code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that has been pending for more than two decades. The Philippines aims to complete the code within Duterte’s term which expires on 2022.

“As ASEAN-China Country Coordinator, the Philippines will do its utmost part to conclude negotiations on a Code of Conduct as soon as possible,” the President said.

“Notwithstanding the lack of enthusiasm by some external partners, I believe that we in ASEAN are one in the view that an effective and substantive COC will be good for the region,” he added.

Progress on the code has been slow due to resistance from China. Aside from the Philippines and the East Asian giant, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have competing claims in the resource-rich South China Sea. In September, Foreign affairs chief Teddy Boy Locsin said the Philippines and China have agreed on a draft code after the latter “softened its insistence on controversial provisions.”

Duterte also urged the ASEAN not to “choose sides” as China continues to rise as a major global power against the dominant United States. He maintained that the Philippines adopted an “independent foreign policy” to underscore this.

This comes as another incident in disputed waters between China and the Philippines was brought to the public’s eye, wherein a Filipino-manned ship was allegedly asked by a Chinese "warship" to change course in Scarborough Shoal which is within the country’s 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

The Defense department has since brushed off concerns regarding the incident, saying the country does not need to pursue a protest against China since no harm was done to the ship and its members.