President Rodrigo Duterte told Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) leaders on Friday to adhere to international law and steer clear of stirring up South China Sea tensions.

Duterte cited “alarming incidents” that occured in the South China Sea even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and called on parties to “refrain from escalating tensions and abide by responsibilities under international law, notably the 1982 Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”

The aggressive acts were however carried out by China, an Asean dialogue partner. In April, a Chinese vessel sank a Vietnamese fishing boat. Beijing also carved out two new administrative areas covering the disputed waters, sparking a protest from Manila.

Duterte said during his intervention in the 36th Asean Summit: “We urge all parties to adhere to the rule of law and to their commitments to international instruments, including the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”

Duterte said the Philippines remained committed to working closely with China and other Asean member-states in creating an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a Friday Palace briefing that “about half” of the participating leaders mentioned the South China Sea issue.

Roque said the adoption of the Code of Conduct would lessen international discord.

Duterte, the coordinator for Asean-China Dialogue Relations, said there were constraints in dealing with “deliverables.”

“[However], we must not lose sight of strategic interests in the [South] China Sea.” he said. John Ezekiel J. Hirro