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Locsin: Philippines opposes US exclusion in South China Sea code of conduct

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday said the Philippines has opposed efforts to block foreign powers, particularly the United States, from having access to the South China Sea under a code of conduct being hammered out by China and Southeast Asian states.

"Here is the non-negotiable: The COC will never exclude a Western power, well the United States, from the area because that's part of our national defense, it's the MDT," Locsin said on ANC.

Locsin was referring to the 70-year-old defense accord, called the Mutual Defense Treaty, that binds America to defend its Asian ally from aggression.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently reaffirmed the Biden administration's commitment to defend the Philippines against any armed attack in the South China Sea amid China's new law authorizing its coast guard to shoot foreign vessels in the disputed waters it claims nearly in its entirety.

America's continuing presence, Locsin said, will ensure "balance of power" in the region.

"To begin with, there is the freedom of open seas," he said.

A regional code of conduct aims to prevent conflicting territorial claims in the vast potentially-oil rich region from erupting into violent confrontations or worse, an economically-devastating major conflict.

In August 2018, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed to a single draft of the code of conduct or COC, with an agreement reached in November 2018 for both sides to finalize the document within three years, starting from 2019.

The Philippines currently heads the code of conduct talks as country coordinator for ASEAN and China.

Locsin said the Philippines is committed to having a code of conduct.

"We are to the fullest extent, we're gonna push for the COC," he said.

Locsin added that the Philippines is working to reduce the draft document to eight pages before it steps down as country coordinator this year.

China, which considers the sea disputes a purely Asian issue is opposed to any foreign intervention, particularly from the US.

The US and China are at odds over the long-seething territorial row in the strategic waters, where Beijing has turned several former reefs into artificial islands with military facilities, runways and surface to air missiles.

Although Washington is not a party to the disputes, it has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the contested waters where China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. — RSJ, GMA News