Philippines seeks 4-nation meeting in sea disputes

Posted at 06/25/14 7:34 PM

MANILA - The Philippines has revived its plan to call a meeting among four ASEAN claimants -- itself, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei -- to disputed islands in the South China Sea to hammer out a common position on how to deal with increasingly assertive rival claimant China, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Tuesday.

Aquino, who flew to Japan for a day-long working visit, said he briefed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about the Philippine plan to call a special four-way claimant meeting.

"We told them that we're talking with our ASEAN brethren, especially the three (other) claimant countries leading up to a meeting with China so we have a common stand," Aquino told reporters aboard a Philippine Airlines flight from Tokyo to Hiroshima.

Last week, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Manila is trying "to get a consensus among the claimant states and then hopefully everyone will agree so we can set the schedule."

He even said that the Philippines is willing to host the meeting which he hopes will take place before a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Myanmar tentatively set to take place in August.

Del Rosario said that Manila will press for a joint call on China to halt reclamation work in contested waters, such as on Johnson South Reef and Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.

"We think that would be the appropriate time to get the claimant states on board, and then go from there," he said.

The Philippines, the most vocal and active among the ASEAN claimants, hatched the idea for the meeting ahead of an ASEAN summit that was held in Cambodia in November 2012.

It had wanted to hold the four-way talks on the sidelines of the summit, but Brunei and Malaysia were reportedly reluctant.

Manila subsequently dropped the idea for the time being, citing scheduling difficulties as the reason for the "postponement." Efforts to revive the plan last year also did not succeed.

The Spratlys are claimed in whole by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and in part by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Other contested areas in the South China Sea include the Paracel Islands, over which China and Vietnam have come to blows in the past, and Scarborough Shoal, which is hotly disputed between China and the Philippines.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations also includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.