This week the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is expected to again try to make headway in resolving ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. During the ministerial meeting and regional forum in Myanmar's (also known as Burma) capital Naypyidaw, the Philippines said it will propose a temporary halt to any development at disputed features in the South China Sea.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs is calling it the "Triple Action Plan." DFA Spokesman Charles Jose said the idea behind the three-pronged approach is "to address the provocative and destabilizing activities in the region."
The first part of the plan calls for all parties to implement the non-binding 2002 agreement known as the "Declaration of Conduct," or DOC, which urges all sides to exercise self-restraint in activities which could escalate territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
"For the immediate approach we are calling for the full and effective implementation of the DOC, and the expeditious conclusion of the code of conduct. And for the final approach, well in the case of the Philippines, we are pursuing the arbitration case that we filed against China," said Jose.
Negotiations have long been stalled on finalizing the "Code of Conduct" in the South China Sea, which would provide a legally-binding framework for avoiding conflict and resolving disputes. But China has never supported a regional agreement, instead insisting it will deal with territorial disputes one-on-one. Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims in the resource-rich, heavily traveled sea.
Now, following months of tensions over Chinese land reclamation on reefs that the Philippines claims, as well as Chinese oil drilling near the Paracel Islands, which are claimed by Vietnam, authorities in Manila said they want a moratorium on all such actions until the disputes can be resolved.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Jose said the moratorium would keep in check activities such as drilling near disputed features or expanding formations through reclamation work.
Meanwhile, the Philippines is still pursuing its arbitration case with a United Nations tribunal that questions China’s claims to nearly the entire sea. Authorities in Manila filed the case in 2013, and this past spring, submitted nearly 4,000 pages of supporting materials.
Beijing rejected arbitration and did not respond to the case. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has given it until December 15 to submit its materials.
Rommel Banlaoi heads the Philippine Institution for Peace Violence and Terrorism Research. He said among the five claimants facing China, Vietnam is the most likely to support the Philippines. But that is not a guarantee.
"Vietnam is doing more development activities. In fact, in my observation, Vietnam is doing more reclamation activities than China," Banlaoi stated.
Banlaoi said the claimants are all within their rights to develop and maintain territories that they have control over, as long as they are not for military purposes. He said putting a temporary stop to these activities might receive a negative domestic response in Vietnam.
Furthermore he said China first wants to see full implementation of the non-binding agreement before it moves toward any legally binding code.
Banlaoi said it would take a long time to assess the proposal’s merits and implications before ASEAN could come to any kind of agreement on it.
Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Jose said ministry Secretary Albert del Rosario recently concluded what his office described as "positive meetings" with counterparts in Vietnam, Brunei and Indonesia to promote the plan.