By Francis Wakefield
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Rey Leonardo Guerrero confirmed over the weekend that he and nine other chiefs of Defense Forces of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining and promoting peace and security in the South China Sea.
In the Joint Statement issued after the ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Informal Meeting (ACDFIM) held Thursday in Singapore, all top military heads also recognized the need for cautious actions in the disputed region.
“Reaffirming the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, as well as the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may complicate the situation,” said the statement released to media only yesterday.
It also added the importance of pursuing a peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.
Brunei, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam have maritime claims over the South China Sea.
According to reports, an estimated US$5 trillion (P250 trillion) worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea and many non-claimant states want the South China Sea to remain international waters.
In order to promote this, several countries including the United States, conduct “freedom of navigation” operations.
The disputes include the islands, reefs, banks, and other features of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, and various boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Now on its 15th iteration, ACDFIM serves as the biggest avenue for interaction among heads of militaries from ASEAN member states where regional issues such as terrorism, sea disputes, and disaster preparedness and response, among others are discussed.
The heads of defense forces also noted the framework “Resilience, Response, Recovery” as a means to build up regional capability to deter and prevent terrorist attacks as well as in coordinating “ASEAN’s responses to address on-going threats and recover from any terrorist attacks.”
In terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the military chiefs agreed to work on the “operationalization of mechanisms to enhance ASEAN responses to natural disasters, such as the ASEAN Military Ready Group (AMRG) on HADR based on principles of sovereignty and consensus-based decision-making.”
The AMRG aims to prepare an ASEAN quick response team for immediate coordinated deployment to ASEAN countries and areas affected by disasters.
Tags: ASEAN, ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Informal Meeting, ASEAN countries, ASEAN militaries commit to South China Sea peace, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, defense forces, Rey Leonardo Guerrero, South China Sea