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Yahoo! Singapore - News http://sg.dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/

 

Monday, November 22 6:04 PM SGT

Philippines proposes Antarctic Treaty model for Spratlys dispute

MANILA, Nov 22 (AFP) -

Claimants to the Spratlys islands in the South China Sea should look to the Antarctic Treaty as a model for settling disputes, Philippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said Monday.

Mercado said "national security" could only be achieved if there was regional stability, stressing that claimants Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam should look at the concept as "intertwined with regional security."

"I would like to propose a model for study first in relation to resolve the conflict in the South China Sea dispute and which, I believe, can be an option for the future direction of our foreign and defense policy -- the Antarctic Treaty Model," Mercado said in a paper to defense experts.

He noted that "unilateral assertions by claimants" have escalated, resulting in a deadlock which could only be broken by "alternative approaches" such as the Antarctic Treaty model.

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 was created by 12 countries for joint scientific endeavors in Antarctica, Mercado said.

The treaty provided for the eventual "demilitarization" of the area and prohibited any military actions such as the establishment of bases and maneuvers.

The parties involved agreed to resolve disputes through peaceful negotiations or arbitration and to govern the Antarctic collectively.

The treaty, signed in 1961, assures "complete freedom of access at any given time to any or all areas" Mercado said, adding that it has "functioned well in preserving the status quo" in the area.

He said such a code could be applicable in the potentially oil-rich Spratlys.

"Working within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty Model, the islands within the South China Sea and their surrounding ecosystems can be declared an international marine reserve," Mercado said.

Claimants should be prepared to "enter into multilateral exploratory" talks, which could evolve into formal negotiations so that "joint management" of the area can be carried out, he said.

"All claimant states must agree to demilitarize the South China Sea," Mercado said.

While Mercado acknowledged that persuading claimant countries to prioritize "regional collective interest" over national interest could be a hard task, it was also "not impossible."

The Philippines has also pushed for a "code of conduct" in the Spratlys aimed at calming tensions.

The code is to be discussed in the upcoming informal summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) here, which will also be attended by the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.