Thailand and the Philippines have agreed to emphasise freedom of navigation in the disputed the South China Sea as a core value in securing peace and prosperity in the region.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shared the same stance on the maritime territorial disputes in the area during a joint press conference at Government House Tuesday, 21 March.
They also agreed to push for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2017.
“Maintaining peace, stability, and security as well as respecting freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea are in the interests of all countries, within and outside the region, as they are fundamental conditions for growth, development and prosperity,” Mr. Duterte said.
Meanwhile, Gen Prayut said Thailand believes the ultimate goal should be for the South China Sea to be the “sea of peace, stability and sustainable development” in order to benefit the region and its people.
The issue of the South China Sea and the bilateral relations between Thailand and Philippines is a complex play.
Thailand last year in September stated that it supports China’s work to “promote peace and stability” in the South China Sea. The statement is considered controversial as it was done hours after the Philippines made public images that it said show China preparing to begin island construction activities on the Scarborough Shoal.
The latest stand made between Duterte and Prayut, however, suggest that Thailand may slightly be inching towards a middle-ground policy on the South China Sea dispute.
Though much is left to be seen. Thailand’s true stand largely depends on its action pertinently in pushing for the completion of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) as soon.