Member nations of ASEAN
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a group of ten member countries that was organized to encourage political, economic, and social cooperation in the region for the good of each country and the welfare of their people.
According to ASEAN’s guiding document, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), there are six fundamental principles members have to adhere to and they are:
1) Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations.
2) The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion.
3) Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.
4) Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner.
5) Renunciation of the threat or use of force.
6) Effective cooperation among themselves.
From these fundamental principles one will immediately notice that the ASEAN is devoid of any military alliance. The organization is simply anchored on economic grounds.
Having said that, while member nations has respect for one another’s sovereignty, each member also demands that nations outside of their organization must also recognize their dominion over their lands and whatever else that belongs legally to them.
It is in this context that as the whole world is seeing how China is flexing its military muscles with impunity in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea, as the government has come to call it, specifically in areas where the Spratly group of islands (south of the Phl)and the Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal (north of the Phl) are located, the Aquino government is asking the ASEAN to take a stand on the dispute with China over territorial claims as other member nations have also a stake in some parts of the contested region.
While we are claiming only that which the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) guarantees as within the 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), China’s argument, however, is that the whole of the West Philippine Sea is theirs on the basis of [its] nine-dash line claim, using a historical record.
China's historic nine-dash claim
The nine-dash claim is China’s delineation of its territory in the South China Sea, with nine dashes on the map that enclose all of the Spratly archipelago, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
But, how could, for instance, China include in its claim the Scarborough Shoal, a protrusion of reefs lying north of the Spratlys and only 120 km off Zambales province on the western coast of Luzon? How could it be theirs when it is even less than the 200 nautical miles EEZ as prescribed by UNCLOS when it talks about the country’s continental shelf?
If China is claiming a solid mass that close to our shore, what will stop China from claiming Palawan later on?
It is for this reason that the ASEAN, as a group of respected nations with equally respected and competent leaders, should come out supportive of our claim and united and forceful in condemning the aggression and expansionist role China is playing in the region of the South China Sea, for if it could happen to us, it could, without doubt, happen to them, too.
The Philippines is thankful for Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario for spearheading this move and for standing by his argument that ‘abiding by the rules set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the legitimate way of dealing with conflicting territorial claims in the disputed waters.’
ASEAN must show China that even without military alliance it remains a force to be reckoned with.