By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser and Director, CSIS Southeast Asia Program
According to an AFP news article today, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo may have just made himself a hero in Beijing. Secretary Romulo reportedly told the media that Manila’s view is that the US does not have a place in resolving South China Sea disputes, does not support US Secretary of State Clinton’s initiative for a multilateral approach based on international law, and emphasized that the issue is one only ASEAN and China need to resolve alone.
Odd position for a US treaty ally. Especially for a country with a brand new president. Notably, Romulo’s term as Foreign Secretary has been “extended” from his term in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s cabinet.
While these news reports are not yet confirmed, the idea that the Philippines is breaking ranks with ASEAN again on the South China Sea is alarming. AFP article today said Romulo told reporters that negotiations should be strictly between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, without the United States or any other party.
AFP indicated that when asked if he supported US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement last month hinting at greater US involvement in the South China Sea dispute, Romulo said: “No”.
“It’s ASEAN and China. Can I make myself clear? It’s ASEAN and China. Is that clear enough?” Romulo told reporters.
This ought to make for a very interesting talking point as President Aquino prepares for his inaugural visit to the United States to meet Barack Obama and participate in the 2nd ASEAN-US Summit in about a month’s time.