China: South China Sea's Code of Conduct draft ready; PH commissions third of 10 patrol ships from Japan; Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay dumped for lying; Australia says no plan for joint South China Sea patrols with Indonesia…
Activities of Related Parties
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the China-ASEAN joint working group has made visible progress in consultation at the end of February and produced the first draft of a Code of Conduct (COC) framework for the South China Sea. The situation in the South China Sea has calmed down visibly over the past year, as a result of joint efforts from of China and the ASEAN countries, he told a news conference during the two sessions on March 8. "If someone should try to make waves and stir a trouble at this moment, then he will have no support other than meet the common opposition of the entire region," he said, noting that China will never allow the hard-won stability to be disrupted once again. The foreign minister also said China would like to see more maritime cooperation and greater trust between the parties in the 21st century. "Even between China and the United States, if we change our mindset, then the vast oceans may well become a broad stage for our cooperation," he said.
Regarding the comments of the Philippine Defense Secretary that Chinese ships had been spotted in waters near Benham Rise, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said: “In 2012, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the submission made by the Philippines in 2009 in respect of the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the Benham Rise region, enabling the Philippines to carry out exploration and development of natural resources in this region. But it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory. According to international law including UNCLOS, a coastal state's rights over the continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters or of the air space above those waters, nor do they affect foreign ships' navigation freedom in the coastal state's EEZ and on the high seas, or their innocent passage through the coastal state's territorial sea as supported by international law.” In addition, “Chinese vessels for marine research did sail across relevant waters to the northeast of Luzon, the Philippines last year, exercising navigation freedoms and the right to innocent passage only, without conducting any other activities or operations. The remarks by some individuals from the Philippines are not consistent with the facts.”
The Philippines on March 7 commissioned the third of 10 multirole ships provided by Japan, formally including it among the fleet of the Southeast Asian country's coast guard. The 44-meter long vessel, christened the "BRP Malapascua," was commissioned in a ceremony held at the Philippine Coast Guard's headquarters in Manila. The ship features fire monitors, night vision camera, radio direction finder, a work boat and a bullet-proof navigational bridge. It also has a cruising speed of 46 kilometers per hour and a range of 2,760 km, according to the coast guard.
Perfecto Yasay Jr. lost his post on March 9 as secretary of foreign affairs for lying under oath before the Commission on Appointments (CA) about his United States citizenship. The 15 members of the CA’s committee on foreign affairs unanimously voted to reject Yasay’s confirmation. With the CA decision, committee chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Yasay should immediately vacate his office. CA members obtained documents showing that Yasay acquired US citizenship in 1986 and renounced it at the US embassy in Manila only last year, shortly before he was named foreign affairs chief. Following the Commission on Appointments’ (CA) rejection of the ad interim position of Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Enrique Manalo as Acting Secretary.
Speaking at a security forum at the National Defense College on March 9, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that Chinese ships had been monitored in recent months at various locations close to the Philippines. A warship was detected 70 miles off its Western coast in the South China Sea and survey ships were seen at the north and south of the eastern seaboard. Earlier in 2016, a Chinese survey ship has been spotted plying the Benham Rise. He said they did not know the reason for the Chinese survey but said he received a report the Chinese could be searching for potential spots to place their submarines. Lorenzana added that: “There was a plan by the Chinese in June to reclaim Scarborough Shoal. In fact, we received reports from the Americans that there were barges loaded with soil and construction materials going to Scarborough but I think the Americans told the Chinese, ‘Don’t do it.’ For some reason, the Chinese stopped.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent on March 10 a letter to the Chinese embassy in Manila following reports on the presence of Chinese ships at Benham Rise. In a statement, DFA said that it had sent a note to the embassy of China to seek clarification on this reported incursion into the country’s territorial waters. The Philippines also expressed its concern on the presence of Chinese ships in the area which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. On the same day, Philippine Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella also expressed concerns on Chinese presence at Benham Rise.
Speaking when visiting Indonesia for a summit meeting of the 21-member Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on March 7 said that his country aimed to work more closely with Indonesia over maritime security, but there was no plan for the neighbors to hold joint patrols in the South China Sea. "Our commitment is to increase our cooperation with each other in terms of maritime security. So we talk about more collaboration, more coordination, but it has not been taken any further than that," he said. Earlier on March 6, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has claimed Indonesian President Joko Widodo never suggested joint patrols in the South China Sea and she had been told he was instead referring to cooperation to ensure freedom of overflight and navigation.
The annual Vietnam-China deputy foreign ministers’ meeting took place in Nha Trang city in the central province of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam between March 5 and 8, discussing bilateral ties and border issues. At the function, Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung and his Chinese counterpart Liu Zhenmin reviewed progress made in bilateral relations in the past time and discussed ways to boost cooperation, particularly the implementation of agreements and common conceptions reached by leaders of the two Parties and Governments, and the maintenance of peace, stability at sea. The two sides will make use of existing negotiation and cooperation mechanisms to build trust; persevere in resolving disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful measures and promote cooperation in line with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia will launch joint patrols in piracy-plagued waters, Manila's defense secretary said on March 9, after a wave of attacks that saw Islamic militants kidnapping and murdering foreigners. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he and his counterparts from Malaysia and Indonesia had agreed to patrol a sea lane where commercial vessels could pass with protection from the three nations' navies.
Thailand's Deputy Premier Prawit Wongsuwan said on March 7 the Thai navy's procurement of three Chinese-built submarines is currently in the coordinating process for a government-to-government purchase deal. Prawit, who is concurrently the defense minister, declined to tell how soon the coordinating process for the submarines purchase deal will be completed but confirmed that a regular budget for the navy to procure the first of the three Yuan-class S26T subs within this year has already been earmarked and approved for current fiscal year. According to a Thai navy source, The Royal Thai Navy is preparing to build facilities for docking and repairing three new submarines it plans to buy from China. The 40 rai area in Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard will house the repair and maintenance facility for the submarines.
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