Unified ASEAN can avert South China Sea conflict - Philippine minister
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[November 25, 2020]
By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) - Tensions in the South
China Sea will increase due to a U.S.-China rivalry that could be kept
in check, if only Southeast Asian countries took a united stand to
influence the status quo, a top Philippine security official said on
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was caught up in the
battle for regional influence but it could do more to ensure stability
and should take a common approach, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana
told a security forum.
"Where is the ASEAN in this superpower rivalry? Despite its avowed ASEAN
centrality, it is anything but," Lorenzana said.
"ASEAN would exert considerable influence on issues and events in the
South China Sea if only it could act as one."
Lorenzana's remarks are unusually blunt for a minister from within the
10-member bloc, which rarely speaks up as a group against militarisation
or perceived acts of aggression, with some states worried about angering
Beijing or Washington.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam have overlapping claims
with China and all but Brunei have been involved in standoffs this year
with Chinese vessels.
China says it has historical sovereignty over nine-tenths of the South
China Sea. It does not recognise a 2016 international arbitral ruling
that invalidated those claims.
Lorenzana said the issue was front and centre during discussions since
May with counterparts in Japan, China, Australia, France and the United
[to top of second column]
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana answer questions
during a Reuters interview at the military headquarters of Camp
Aquinaldo in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines February 9,
2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo
"What do this tell us? That the South China Sea is important to a
lot of nations," he said.
"That the tension in the South China Sea will continue to rise as
China will continue to accuse the U.S. and other nations of
provocation and destabilisation ... that the West is trying to
contain the rise of China."
China has stepped up its coastguard presence and military drills
this year, including near islands also claimed by Vietnam, while the
United States has deployed warships to demonstrate freedom of
navigation. They accuse each other of deliberate provocations.
Lorenzana said Southeast Asia worries the risk of armed conflict is
U.S. ally the Philippines, he said, "will be involved whether she
likes it or not."
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)
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