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Published on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 09:40
Asia News Network, agencies
Aquino disputes Cambodia's claim of Asean 'consensus' over sea disputes
Asean leaders yesterday failed again to form a common front towards geo-political disputes with China over the South China Sea as the Philippines vowed to continue shouting while Cambodia tried to contain discussions to the two immediate sides.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations hoped to show a solid stance on the South China Sea row as they hosted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the antagonist, and US President Barack Obama, who wants some say in the matter for the sake of Washington's strategic objectives.
Cambodia as the rotating chair of the grouping has said the South China Sea conflict should not be "internationalised" and should be confined to negotiations only between Asean and China.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino insisted that he and another country, which diplomats said was Vietnam, had not agreed and that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen should not have promoted an alleged Asean "consensus".
"While the Philippines was for Asean unity, it has the inherent right to defend its national interests when deemed necessary," Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters, quoting Aquino's comments to his fellow leaders yesterday.
Del Rosario said the Philippine delegation had sent a letter to all other Asean leaders to emphasise that there was no consensus.
Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have laid claims to parts of the sea, which is home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in fossil fuels. But China insists it has sovereign rights to virtually all of the sea.
Aquino tried pushing for a single Asean voice in the dispute with China during his stay in Phnom Penh for the Asean summit.
In his address to fellow leaders, Aquino said Asean was now one of the "few bright spots in a world beset with uncertainty", and that it must continue to engage in constructive dialogue, strengthen its resolve and reaffirm its respect for international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Aquino said Asean's "Six-point Principles on the South China Sea", an Indonesian initiative that the bloc adopted after failing to issue a joint communique at the close of a ministerial meeting here in July, manifested its collective vision founded on the concept of Asean centrality.
Aquino raised his country's concerns over the South China Sea in the meeting between Asean leaders and Wen yesterday, according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
"It was only mentioned in general terms by the Philippines," he said.
"No other country talked about it. All countries are interested in economic growth, sustainable balanced development in this region."
Temperatures could rise again when Obama joins the East Asia Summit, a two-day affair that brings to the table the leaders of Japan, South Korea, India, New Zealand and Australia.
Obama has already angered China, and emboldened the Philippines, by calling for the rival claimants to agree on a legally binding code of conduct to govern their actions over the sea.
The US made it clear that it would not get involved in the maritime wrangling but wanted to stabilise the sea in the interest of navigational freedom in the area.