SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE MAIN AQUINO AGENDA
President Aquino seeks to agitate China anew during the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting which begins in Laos today, saying he would raise overlapping claims to the South China Sea with Asian and European leaders despite pleas from China not to “internationalize” the issue.
Aquino said he expects to hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of the European Union, Poland, Switzerland, Norway and Italy.
Aquino had insisted in the past that solving the dispute needed a multilateral approach, but China insisted on solving the problem bilaterally with individual countries involved.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is also attending the conference while holding an official visit to Laos.
“At a time when parts of Asia and Europe are facing crisis and uncertainty, it is important for leaders of the two regions to discuss issues they are burdened with,” he said in his departure speech.
Among other issues, he said, the leaders were expected to talk about increasing economic cooperation and seek ways to limit the impact of fiscal crises hobbling some European nations.
Aquino said the Philippines meanwhile would seek “suggestions on ways to craft a just and peaceful agreement on the West Philippine Sea.” Manila refers to the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines has since April been engaged in a stand-off with China over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
China claims the shoal as well as nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighbouring countries. The Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims to parts of the sea.
The Philippines and Vietnam have accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking out its claims.
Aquino is targeting ot least six international leaders to be the latest addition to the Philippine government’s list of foreign allies who are expected to be at the Philippine side when it ‘tackles’ on China over a maritime region known to be abundantly rich on oil.
In his departure speech, the President expressed optimism over the scheduled bilateral meetings during the event.
Aquino’s earlier foreign trips to the United States, Europe and Australia have seen the President striking out a deal seen to have somehow forged a partnership on “the need to impose order in the Southeast Asia”.
Delegates are expected to discuss the increasing economic cooperation and seek ways to limit the impact of fiscal crises hobbling some European nations.
The Malacanang chief executive, who left yesterday noon along with a big entourage of 66 persons hinted on the possibility of raising “suggestions on ways to craft a just and peaceful agreement on the West Philippine Sea”.
China however refers to the disputed maritime region as the South China Sea.
The Philippines has since April been engaged in a stand-off with China over a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
Aside from the West Philippine Sea, China has also made a claim over the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag) off the Zambales coast. Interestingly, the local diplomats insisted that there isn’t any dispute over the Panatag because it is well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are likewise making their own assertion of sovereignty to parts of the West Philippine Sea.
Interestingly, Philippines and Vietnam have been seen as forming an informal alliance as both have accused China of being a bully in the southeast Asia where it has imposed on an increasingly aggressiveness in the region. Fernan J. Angeles
China, through its official news agency Xinhua, said it expects the meeting to be a gathering of European and Asian leaders “to discuss a host of global challenges topped by economic and security issues.”
It said that under the theme “Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity”, the Summit “will concentrate on economic debates amid a wobbling world’s economy which was heavily hit by the international financial crisis broke out four years ago.”
The last ASEM summit held in Brussels in 2010 was mainly dominated by economic issues such as reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the wake of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and a strong rebound of Asian economies.
“The crisis in the euro area intensified notwithstanding policy action aimed at resolving it,” the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) said in its 2012 report referring to the debt crisis that has crippled several European countries including Greece and resulted in a multi-billion dollar bailout package.
From the EU side, there are concerns about the Asian response, particularly from China, and how their cooperation can help solve the problem.
In October, senior finance officials from Asia and Europe agreed during a gathering in Bangkok that Asia’s economies would unlikely shrug off the West’s economic troubles because Asia and Europe are closely knitted in terms of international trade and investment.
“With the ongoing economic difficulties of some countries in the eurozone, I believe that our cooperation is even more crucial than ever,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said ahead of ASEM echoing the general tone of the meeting.
If ASEM countries could cope with the euro debt crisis in a collective manner and certain institutional framework can be set up gradually within the framework, said Dr. Shen Xuhui, associate professor of the Faculty of Social Science of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Right now, we still lack this kind of institutional cooperation between the two continents. If when there is a crisis on either side, they can ask for help from an institutional partner, which could change the current political landscape of the global arena,” Shen added.
Adding more impetus to east and west engagement, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has also urged reinforced cooperation between member countries. “China has entered the best time in history in its relations with Eurasian countries and is embracing a new height of cooperation for mutual benefit,” Wen said while addressing the Second China-Eurasia Economic Development and Cooperation Forum held in Urumqi, China in September.
Overall, the 49 nations from the two continents represent more than half of the world’s economic output, about 60 percent of the world’s population and over 60 percent of global trade.
As a platform for dialogue launched in 1996, the talks will also touch on other issues of common concerns including, among others, food and energy security, climate change and future direction of ASEM.
Xinhua, nevertheless, indicated that on the bilateral front, “the China-Japan row could steal the show amid growing concerns that the dispute has begun to hurt bilateral business ties and set off alarms that the spat between the two Asian economic giants might jeopardize global growth and destabilize the security of the entire region.”
Aquino arrived in Laos yesterday on board the Philippine Air Lines flight PR001 at the Wattay International Airport at around 2:45 p.m, 25 minutes earlier than his scheduled arrival of 3:10 p.m.
He was accompanied by his official delegation that included Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory L. Domingo, outgoing Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras, NEDA Director General Arsenio M. Balisacan, and Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr.
The President was met by Philippine Officials led by Philippine Ambassador to Lao PDR Maria Lumen B. Isleta, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary and ASEM SOM Elizabeth Buensuceso, and Colonel Manny Gonzales, Defense and Armed Forces Attaché.
Lao PDR officials who were also on hand to welcome the President were: Hiem Phommachanh, Minister of Post, Telecommunication and Communication; Malayvieng Sakonhninhom, Ambassador of Lao PDR to the Philippines; Anouphab Tounalom, Vice Mayor, Vientiane Capital City; and Sisavath Inphachanh, Director General, Consulate Department.
Shortly after his arrival, President Aquino will immediately meet with the members of the Filipino community. He is also expected to exchange views with his counterparts from the two regions on the Eurozone crisis, trade and investment facilitation, energy and food security, disaster management, counter-terrorism, migration, and regional issues during the two-day Summit.
The ASEM was created in 1996 through the initiative of Singapore and France. It is an informal process of dialogue and cooperation with the main objective of forging a comprehensive partnership between Asia and Europe.
The Palace said the Laos trip of Aquino will be worth P8.9 million in public expenditures
“President Aquino hopes to further strengthen our exceptional partnership with Europe by reaffirming the significance of the long-standing economic and political ties between our country and the region,” Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa noted.
Ochoa said the estimated expenses for President Aquino’s participation to the ASEM 9 covers the entire delegation’s chartered flight to Lao PDR, accommodation, transportation, food, and equipment and telecommunications requirements, among others.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), President Aquino is expected to “exchange views with counterparts from the two regions on the Eurozone crisis, trade and investment facilitation, energy and food security, disaster management, counter-terrorism, migration and regional issues.”
According to official data from the foreign affairs department, there are more than 700,000 Filipinos living and working in Europe as of 2011.
Europe is the Philippines’ third largest trade partner after North America and Asia, with trade pegged at US$ 13 billion or about 12 percent of the country’s total trade to the world last year, the DFA said.
During the same period, the DFA added, some P33.3 billion worth of investments came from the European Union, primarily from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Fernan J. Angeles, AFP