Philippines, Singapore push for Asean solidarity, centrality in resolving South China Sea rows

Philippine Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras looks on during a meeting at the Government Office in Hanoi on April 11, 2016.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras looks on during a meeting at the Government Office in Hanoi on April 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Asean's solidarity, unity and centrality are "fundamental as they are vital" in resolving disputes over the South China Sea, the Philippines and Singapore said on Wednesday (April 13).

"The Philippines has complete respect for the Asean process and fully supports Asean centrality in pushing forward our agenda for community building, including enhanced relations with dialogue partners such as China," the Philippines' Foreign Minister Rene Almendras said in a statement issued in Manila.

Mr Almendras was in Singapore on Tuesday (April 12) and Wednesday (April 13), following a two-day visit to Vietnam.

He called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (April 12), and met with his Singapore counterpart, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, on Wednesday (April 13).

The statement issued by the Philippines' Foreign Ministry said Mr Almendras and Mr Lee "reiterated that, as a non-claimant state, Singapore's key interests lie in ensuring that the rule of law prevails over any dispute, preserving freedom of navigation and the unimpeded conduct of commerce in the (South China Sea)".

Mr Almendras was also quoted as conveying "the appreciation of the Philippines for the leadership role Singapore is ably performing as present coordination for Asean-China Dialogue Relations".

Singapore took over as coordinator from Thailand last year.

In Hanoi, Mr Almendras also underscored the "vital role that Asean centrality and solidarity play, including the non-claimant states, in coming up with a common position regarding the issue of the (South China Sea)".

The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to draft a six-year "action plan" to deepen their security ties in the face of China's growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

The Philippines and Vietnam - former Cold War adversaries - both have competing claims with China over the South China Sea. Aside from the Philippines and Vietnam, other claimants to the sea include Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

A statement issued by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines and Singapore "reaffirmed the longstanding and warm relations between Singapore and the Philippines. They noted the strong people-to-people links and hope to see such links further strengthened".

Said Mr Almendras: "The Philippines appreciates very much all the support Singapore has shown the Philippines with great confidence and faith in the resilience of the Philippine economy. We also thank Singapore for being a gracious host to a considerable Filipino expatriate community, who benefit from friendly programmes and policies being implemented by your government."

rdancel@sph.com.sg