Issues relative to disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) will be on the table when President Rodrigo Duterte attends the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Singapore next week.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum-West said with the Philippines at the helm of the coordination for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China Dialogue until 2021, “regional developments related to the contested territorial waters will be taken up at the Summit.”
“As you know, the Philippines has assumed the coordinatorship of the ASEAN-China Dialogue partnership from this year until 2021, that’s for a period of three years. And we are quite sure the West Philippine Sea would be one of those regional developments that would be taken up in the summit,” Mahilum-West shared at a pre-departure briefing in Malacañang yesterday.
“As to the detail of the discussions, I cannot say. But for sure there’s going to be discussion on the West Philippine Sea,” she pointed out.
One possible topic would be the reported operation of weather stations China built in three of its posts in the Spratly Islands.
The structures can be found on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs and viewed as China’s way of asserting control over the disputed waterway.
Malacañang had deferred to the government’s security cluster and the DFA to decide on what steps to take next.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. bared the council has no concrete conclusion as of yet.
“Well, we are indeed verifying if they have put up weather stations there. And we will from there, after the verification itself, take appropriate action. We are not questioning the benefits that could come from weather stations. But we are still verifying the presence thereof,” he said.
“But let us remember that in the current situation now, we have attained an environment where we could talk to each other. We now have the bilateral consultative mechanisms which just ended two weeks ago. So, everything that we wanted to relay, we have addressed it there,” Esperon added.
The former military chief also said a “civilian satellite” is in the process of being installed that is expected to be completed this month. It will help with the verification as images it will produce “will be thoroughly studied to determine if the structures are indeed weather stations,” according to Esperon.
Other issues expected to be tackled during the summit are micro, small and medium enterprises, the economy and infrastructure development because of “Build, Build, Build” program.
“Non-traditional issues” like counterterrorism, illegal drugs and human trafficking are also expected to be discussed by the Chief Executive with his counterparts, according to West.
“We would also be very interested in women and youth development, disaster management, climate change and people-to-people exchanges,” she said.
Aside from the 10 ASEAN heads of state convening, they will also have side meetings with leaders from dialogue partners in the form of the Plus One Summit, ASEAN Plus Three and the East Asia Summit.
The ASEAN Plus Three Summit is the 10 ASEAN leaders’ meeting with their counterparts from China, Japan and Korea. The East Asia Summit, meanwhile, will include Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.”
The gathering, according to West, is an opportune time for leaders of different nations to have “engaging discussions on regional and international issues that impact on the peace, security and overall well-being of the peoples of our region.”
“We anticipate a number of outcome documents to be adopted, issued and noted by the leaders at the ASEAN Summit and in the Plus One Summits, the ASEAN-Plus Three, as well as the East Asia Summit,” West said.
Likewise, West added four to five ASEAN leaders and dialogue partners have expressed their intentions to have a sideline meeting with the President. She, however, refused to name them.
with Elmer N. Manuel