Manila stirs up trouble
Updated: 2013-07-02 08:07
Despite sporadic skirmishes between China and the Philippines over Ren'ai Reef in the South China Sea, the situation in the recently disputed waters has remained, by and large, peaceful over the past few months. This has catered to the interests of both parties, as well as the region as a whole.
Yet, the farce staged by Manila on Sunday in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, lays bare the fact that Manila is once again trying to stir up the troubled waters. In a media statement issued before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers' meeting, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario accused China of keeping a "massive presence" of military and paramilitary ships at two groups of islets "within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone".
Manila is not in the position to point an accusing finger at China's activities in these waters. The two groups of islets he was referring to were Huangyan Islands and Ren'ai Reef, and China holds irrefutable evidence to support its sovereignty over them.
Rosario's unwarranted remarks are clear proof that Manila is continuing to cling to the tactic of criticizing others for its own faults in the South China Sea. Last year, due to Manila's meddling, for the first time in the regional bloc's history the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting concluded without a joint declaration being issued.
This year, Manila's attempt to hijack the ASEAN meeting failed at the very beginning. In a joint communiqu issued after the meeting of the ASEAN foreign ministers on Sunday, ASEAN made it clear that it saw the need to maintain the positive momentum that has been achieved in the interaction between ASEAN countries and China over the disputes in the South China Sea.
China and ASEAN also announced on Sunday that they will hold their sixth meeting between senior officials in September in China to push forward consultations over the key documents related to management of the disputes. The two sides signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. They have also agreed to work for a more detailed code of conduct in the waters.
To cultivate a good environment for the upcoming consultations and negotiations, China and ASEAN should guard against any attempts to derail efforts in building on the current positive momentum.