KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The Philippines on Sunday urged the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take immediate steps to halt land reclamation by China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, warning that failure to do so will see Beijing take "de facto control" of the area.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers that if China's construction of artificial islands on reefs claimed by other countries is allowed to be completed, then Beijing will impose its claim over more than 85 percent of the sea.
Rosario urged the grouping to "stand up" to China by urging it to halt its reclamation work.
China, Taiwan and ASEAN members Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
ASEAN has maintained a cautious stand in the dispute to avoid angering China, a key trading partner.
Rosario said the reclamation threatened to militarize the region, infringe on rights of other states and damage the marine environment.
He warned that China, which has been dragging its foot on ASEAN's push for a binding code of conduct governing behavior in the sea, will aim to complete its reclamation activities before it agrees to conclude the code.
If this happens, he said that the code will legitimize China's reclamation.
"The threats posed by these massive reclamations are real and cannot be ignored or denied," he said. "ASEAN should assert its leadership, centrality and solidarity. ASEAN must show the world that it has the resolve to act in the common interest."
The Philippines filed a case with an international arbitration tribunal in 2013 challenging China's claim.
Beijing has defended the reclamation, saying it is Chinese territory and the structures are for public service use and to support Chinese fishermen.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said Friday that ASEAN leaders are expected to raise concerns over Chinese land reclamation at their two-day summit starting Monday and will seek to speed up plans for the code of conduct with China.