Presidential Communications Sec. Martin Andanar said President Duterte (pictured) will maintain his policy of being "friends to all and enemies to none." Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters
ASEAN leaders, together with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, lock arms at a signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding between the regional bloc and FIFA, in Bangkok, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Soe Zeya Tun, Reuters
As Southeast Asia deals with the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday urged regional stakeholders to “exercise self-restraint.”
“As ASEAN-China country coordinator, the Philippines will do its utmost part to conclude negotiations on a Code of Conduct as soon as possible,” he said during the ASEAN Summit plenary in Bangkok.
“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.”
Duterte said his administration is keen to produce a binding code of conduct to keep the peace in the West Philippine Sea, which China claims is under its jurisdiction.
The President said the matter must follow international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
He added that the 10-member regional bloc “must remain united.”
“We must lead the way in building trust and confidence among all stakeholders,” Duterte said.
“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.”
In August, Beijing told Duterte during his visit there that its position on the West Philippine Sea was not up for negotiation.
China claims most of the contested sea, including waters close to Philippine shores, and has rejected a UN-backed international tribunal ruling that said its assertion to the Sea is without legal basis.
In a meeting between Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the same visit, Xi reiterated his government's position of not recognizing the tribunal ruling "as well as not budging from its position", Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said then.
The two leaders agreed to work together to "manage" the issue and recognized "the importance of self-restraint and respect for freedom of navigation in — and overflight above — the South China Sea."
In July, Vietnam called for the "immediate withdrawal" of a Chinese ship in the sea, as the standoff over the disputed waters intensified.
Prior to that, Beijing issued a new call for Hanoi to respect its claims to the resource-rich region, which have historically been contested by Vietnam as well as Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Hanoi responded by saying it had sent several messages to Beijing insisting that a Chinese survey ship vacate its waters, and doubling down with new demands for the vessel's removal.
"Vietnam resolutely and persistently protects our sovereign rights . . . by peaceful means on the basis of international laws," foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said.
— With a report from Reuters, Agence France-Presse