ASEAN reaffirms freedom of navigation in WPS

MANILA While no specific distinctions were given, freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed South China Sea was reaffirmed in general by the Philippines and other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Thursday.

"The freedom of navigation theme was universal and then that it should include everything, all kinds of vessels," he told reporters when asked if the bloc issued comments on the United States operations in the region.

"There's absolutely no distinction made," he stressed.

Last month, tensions between China and the US grew after a close encounter between its respective destroyers near some artificial features in Spratlys. Beijing then accused Washington of violating its "sovereignty" in the strategic waters claimed by littoral countries, including the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier expressed concern over the discord between the two superpowers, as the Philippines could be dragged into if China and the US engage in military confrontation.

In the chairman's statement for the 33rd ASEAN Summit, the bloc reaffirmed the freedom of navigation as well as its commitment towards a "full and effective" code of conduct in the South China Sea.

"We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea and recognized the benefits of having the South China Sea as a sea of peace, stability and prosperity," the statement reads. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency