MANILA, Philippines — Washington will not put pressure on the Philippines to try to push back against China in connection with the South China Sea dispute, the US Department of State said.
Patrick Murphy, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stressed that State Secretary Rex Tillerson wants cooperation and collaboration in addressing the North Korea and South China Sea issues.
President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to use the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea in pressuring China.
In a telephonic press conference last week, Murphy said that the US took note of the arbitration ruling issued last year and consistently notes that it is a binding ruling between the Philippines and China.
"But there is a much bigger story here, and that is bringing about a solution to the disputes that applies to all of the claimants and then the rest of the international community that has the rights and the needs to access the South China Sea area," Murphy told members of the press.
Murphy noted that the South China Sea dispute was one of the main issues discussed during the meeting between Tillerson and his Southeast Asian counterparts last week.
The US official noted that Washington and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) share common objectives in wanting the air and maritime transit through the South China Sea to be free and open in accordance with international law.
"He gave his counterparts and Southeast Asia assurances that they could count on the US to assert our rights for the benefit of unimpeded commerce and trade and regional and global security and peace. In accordance with international law, we will assert those rights," Murphy said.
Tillerson also assured his ASEAN counterparts that the US strongly encourages all relevant parties to stop any activities associated with militarizing, constructing or reclaiming land in the disputed areas.
"He thought that it would be beneficial for all if such activities of militarization, construction, and reclamation would stop. Let’s ensure that the environment is conducive for good talks to find a solution," Murphy said.
Murphy further noted that the US is not a claimant in the South China Sea but an interested party seeking to enjoy unimpeded travel and transit for purposes of navigation, overflight and commerce.
Washington believes that the South China Sea dispute could be resolved through dialogue, according to Murphy.
"Dialogue is important as long as it is inclusive and adheres to the principles of a rules-based order," the deputy assistant secretary said.
Murphy reiterated that Washington does not want to put pressure due to a common understanding of the need for navigation, overflight and for commerce.
"It’s a complicated issue, and I think ASEAN is itself a very good example of that. There are claimants, there are non-claimants… The good news is that ASEAN has demonstrated unity on this issue in the past and ASEAN leaders themselves have referred to the Sunnylands Principles which deal with things like militarization, and reclamation, and construction," Murphy said.
As an interested party, the US encouraged China and the ASEAN to conduct a dialogue that would result in a binding agreement that would apply to all countries.
During the conclusion of the 30th ASEAN Leaders' Summit in Manila a few weeks ago, Duterte said that the 10-member regional bloc will push through with the enactment of a code of conduct on the South China Sea within the first half of the year.
The ASEAN, under Philippine chairmanship this year, did not mention any single reference of the arbitral ruling issued by a United Nations-backed tribunal in its final statement.
By Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com)