No one will emerge victorious if the South China Sea becomes a “lotus of power play,” President Duterte cautioned Saturday amid renewed appeals for peace and stability in the region.

DUTERTE1 1 1024x684 - Duterte warns against playing ‘dangerous game’ in South China SEA dispute
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his remarks during the virtual 15th EAST ASIA Summit at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on November 14, 2020.
(KING RODRIGUEZ / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Addressing the 15th East Asia Summit Saturday, the President has warned against playing the “dangerous game” in the disputed territory as he called for lowering of tensions and adhering to international law in the region.

“Let us [not] make the South China Sea another locus — or let us not — a locus of power play. It is a dangerous game to play and one without a victor,” Duterte said. “Let us lower tensions, not raise them; build confidence rather than doubts; listen and understand instead of threaten,” he said. 

Duterte raised anew the arbitration award on the South China Sea issue, which he claimed has become part of international law. UNCLOS, he added, provides a framework on “a clear way forward” in dealing with the maritime conflict.

“The 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea is a definitive application of this constitution of the seas. It is part of international law,” he said. “We must commit to the rule of law — fully and firmly. There is simply no other acceptable basis for order in our region — but the law,” he added.

In 2016, a UN-recognized arbitration court nullified China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea based on the so-called nine-dash line. The ruling was in favor of the Philippines which has contested China’s controversial claims in the territory.

Beijing however has rejected the ruling and instead continued its land reclamation and other activities in the South China Sea. China has overlapping claims with four ASEAN members namely Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam in the entire South China Sea.

In the same speech, the President maintained that the Asia Pacific must remain a region of peace “where the rule of law is supreme — where all countries are equal, neither pawns nor lackeys of any power.” He said the region runs the risk of compromising peace and stability in the region if it gives in to divisions and rivalry.

“The Asia-Pacific has always been a contested region where big powers vie for control and domination. Our challenge is to manage the unavoidable shifts resulting from this dynamic,” he said. “To do this, we need an open and inclusive regional architecture where ASEAN plays a central role,” he added. 

He also welcomed the interest of EAS partners to cooperate with ASEAN in line with the principles and agenda of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. The Philippines particularly looks forward to enhanced engagement in maritime security, he said.

The East Asia Summit, a forum in the region dealing with issues related to security and defense, includes the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Russia.

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