Philippines hosts Back to Back USA - ASEAN Meeting in Manila – Amidst Stand-off with China

The Philippines will host the 25th Association of Southeast Asian Nations-United States Dialogue and the first Meeting of the ASEAN-U.S. Eminent Persons Group (EPG) in Manila from May 20 to 22, 2012 as announced by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs – Thursday (5/17/2012).

The ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue is a regular meeting held between ASEAN and U.S. Senior Officials who will review the progress in ASEAN-U. S. cooperation and exchange views on regional and international developments, including the launching of the ASEAN-U.S. EPG and preparations for the 4th ASEAN-U.S. Leaders' Meeting in November, the Ministry said in a statement released Thursday.

The 25th ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue will be co-chaired by Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio, in her capacity as Philippine Senior Official Meeting (SOM) Leader, and by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell of the U.S. State Department- Office for East Asia and the Pacific, it said.

Prior to the Dialogue, the ASEAN-U.S. EPG will meet for the first time on May 21. The meeting, a recommendation of ASEAN-U.S. Leaders, is to discuss issues including reviewing ASEAN-U.S. relations and recommending future actions; strengthening cooperation and coordination in specific sectors, such as trade and investment, disaster response and energy security; and identifying new steps for the effective implementation of the decisions of previous ASEAN-U.S. Leaders' Meetings and the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership.

The role of the EPG is to review ASEAN-US relations and recommend future actions, including opportunities to enhance cooperation on regional and global issues.

It is also tasked to strengthen cooperation and coordination in specific sectors, such as trade and investment, disaster response and energy security.

The EPG will identify new steps for the effective implementation of the decisions of previous ASEAN-US leaders' meetings and the plan of action to implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-US Enhanced Partnership.

Philippine officials, who are hosting the May 20-22 meetings, did not immediately say if maritime issues, including the territorial spat with China in the West Philippine Sea, would be tackled.

Manila and Beijing are locked in a tense maritime standoff at the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island, since April 10.

Both countries are seeking a quick end to the impasse in the shoal 124 nautical miles off Luzon's northwestern coast and china's 472 nautical miles from its closest province in Hainan.

The Philippines has asked the ASEAN and foreign governments to take a stand against what it perceives as China's looming threat to freedom of navigation in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a statement, said the dialogue is "a regular meeting" held between senior officials from the two sides "to review the progress in ASEAN-US cooperation."

Both sides would also exchange views on regional and international developments, it added.

The Philippines is the country coordinator for ASEAN-US dialogue relations from 2009 to 2012.

The ASEAN is a regional bloc of democratic, socialist and aristocratic states formed in the Cold War era. Its member states are the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

These countries, at one time or another, had been engaged in conflicting territorial claims.

China-leaning ASEAN members, like Cambodia and Laos, have generally echoed Beijing's stance of tackling the recent territorial dispute bilaterally, while US allies, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore have called for a multilateral solution to the problem.

The latest dispute that has run for almost six weeks, Philippine and Chinese vessels are facing off in the shoal, a ring-shaped coral reef with rocky outcrops encircling a lagoon in Zambales Province of the Philippines.

China's nearest Hainan province lies 472 nautical miles from the Panatag Shoal, which lies 124 nautical miles of Zambales province in Luzon.

Beijing has rejected Manila's claim and argued the shoal's proximity to the disputed area cannot be a basis for ownership.

Philippine officials said the shoal is also well within the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), an area where coastal countries have sole rights to exploit and develop, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Both China and the Philippines have ratified the UNCLOS.

But China says it owns the shoal on the basis of ancient maps, records and what Beijing says is its discovery of the area in ancient times. 

The US is one of the longstanding dialogue partners of ASEAN, having established relations with the regional bloc in 1977.

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