By Ellen Tordesillas
As of late afternoon Tuesday, the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who were meeting in Pnom Penh, Cambodia, had not released the joint communiqué which usually concludes the meeting.
Reporters covering the 45th ASEAN FMM said the discussion Monday was contentious between the Philippines and the chair, Cambodia over the subject of Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippines, represented by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, introduced the following paragraph in the draft communiqué. The capitalized phrases were taken out by Cambodia, apparently in consideration of China, but the Philippines insisted on its restoration: " In this context,we discussed in depth the recent developments in the South China Sea INCLUDING THE SITUATION IN THE SCARBOROUGH SHOAL, and expressed serious concern over such development in the area PARTICULARLY THOSE CONTRARY TO THE PROVISIONS OF THE 1982 UNCLOS RELATED TO THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE AND CONTINENTAL SHELVES OF COASTAL STATES. In this connection we called on all parties to respect THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE AND CONTINENTAL SHELVES OF COASTAL STATES as well as the freedom of navigation in and overflight over the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law,inclusing the 1982 UNCLOS. "
Information from participating officials said Singapore and Indonesia tried to reformulate the paragraph but there was no agreement by the Philippines and Cambodia, which is known to be very close with China.
This development should tell the Philippines to be ready for a lonely fight if we decide to pursue the case on the conflict with China on Scarborough Shoal and South China Sea in the international arena.
It is a fight that we should pursue to uphold our territorial integrity but we should not expect any support from our neighbors in ASEAN, even those with their own conflicting claims with China in the South China Sea.
ASEAN is composed of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos , Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam are involved in conflicting territorial claims over parts of South China Sea, which China is claiming wholly as part of its territory. Taiwan also claims ownership of SCS.
The stand of ASEAN, which operates by consensus, on the dispute between the Philippines and China, is not at all surprising.
It's all about national interest.
These countries enjoy a robust trade with China . They won't jeopardize the interest of their people by siding with the Philippines regardless of the merits of our arguments against China's intrusion to our territory.
Not even the United States, which has promised to help the us improve the capability of our armed forces, won't join us in a war with China. There is so much going between the United States and China economically.
The comment of an unnamed U.S. Embassy official published in Jane's Defence Weekly on the announcement of President Aquino recently that he would ask the United States to conduct overflights over South China Sea, should tell Philippine officials to tone down their expectation of American assistance in a conflict with China.
However, the US official said,"US forces do not lend out our aircraft nor comment where or when or why they fly when over international airspace."
We still have to confirm this but a reliable source said the Americans advised Philippine officials not to send back government vessels to Scarborough Shoal which was the scene of a more-than-two month standoff with China.
Aquino had met his cabinet on China but, unlike before when Malacañang was issuing statements that irked China, he ordered complete secrecy.
Whatever the government decides on how to proceed with China, Aquino should be aware of the realities in foreign relations and should have a plan, short and long term, for the consequences of his decision.