Ease Taiwan tension: ASEAN

The Philippines joined other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Thursday in warning against any “provocative action” in the Taiwan Strait following the start of China’s live-fire military exercises in its self-governing territory.

Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, ministers of the 10-nation ASEAN have issued a rare joint statement calling for sobriety as the visit of United States (US) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei on 3 August has angered Beijing.

China warned its biggest-ever military exercise encircling Taiwan would include “long-range, live ammunition shooting.” Taiwan’s military, in response, said it is readying for war without seeking war.

Taiwan has reported 27 Chinese warplanes entering its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) after Pelosi’s departure on Wednesday, triggering fears that China’s actions could start a shooting war and drag other nations into the fray.

Before Pelosi’s visit, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) urged the US and China to avoid any “miscalculation” involving their military forces.

The Philippines added it has pre-identified evacuation sites for the more or less 200,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) working in Taiwan.

“Places of work and factories [have been] required ever since to have shelter and food provision for at least two weeks,” a report by the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) said.

MECO and the three Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Taichung have “put in place for execution” evacuation areas and bomb shelters for OFWs, it added.

Disrupted flights

The “situation is normal and the majority of the people and expats do not believe that China will attack Taiwan at this point in time,” MECO said.

Developments in Taiwan were, however, not normal as its Cabinet said the exercises by Beijing would disrupt 18 international routes passing through its flight information region.

China itself canceled more than 400 flights in major airports in Fujian in the past two days, signaling that the airspace of the Chinese province closest to Taiwan could be used by its military.

AFP reporters said they saw several small projectiles fired from the proximity of nearby military installations flying into the sky followed by plumes of white smoke and loud booming sounds around 1.13 p.m. (0513 GMT).

China’s military confirmed it had carried out “long-range live ammunition firing on specific areas in the eastern Taiwan Strait.”

“Precision strikes were carried out on specific areas on the eastern Taiwan Strait and the expected results were achieved,” the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army said.

Meanwhile Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the Philippines remains committed to the One-China principle.

“We have not changed our policy,” Angeles said in a text message to the media. Earlier, she refused to comment on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, saying statements coming from Malacañang could affect Philippine international relations.

“On matters of international relations, reactions are studied. We don’t make knee-jerk reactions because they could adversely affect international relations,” she stressed.

She said “loose words” could affect international relations that are “very difficult to rebuild.”

The DFA, likewise, reiterated that the “Philippines adheres to the One-China Policy” through a statement released on Thursday.

“The Philippines is concerned with the rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait, just north of the Philippines,” the DFA stated. “The Philippines urges restraint by all parties concerned. Diplomacy and dialogue must prevail.”

Wisdom needed

In their statement, the ASEAN foreign ministers called for “maximum restraint” and for all sides to “refrain from provocative action.”

“The world is in dire need of wisdom and responsibility of all leaders to uphold multilateralism and partnership, cooperation, peaceful-coexistence and healthy competition for our shared goals of peace, stability, security and inclusive and sustainable development,” they said.

The statement added: “We should act together and ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue between all parties including through utilizing ASEAN-led mechanisms to deescalate tension, to safeguard peace, security and development in our region.”

ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Pelosi’s visit was the first by a US House Speaker and the first by a high-ranking American official in 25 years in the island of Taiwan that Beijing claims to be its territory.

China opposes any engagement by Taiwanese officials with foreign governments and has consistently needled its Asian neighbors, including the Philippines, to observe a “One-China policy.”

Beijing claimed Pelosi’s visit, which was attended by the US positioning an aircraft carrier group in the region, broke the status quo, and promptly announced a series of military exercises that will end on Sunday, 7 July.

Supply chains threat

Analysts warned yesterday that the military exercises could disrupt one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors and stretch global supply chains.

Nearly half the world’s container ships passed through the narrow Taiwan Strait — which separates the island from the Chinese mainland — in the first seven months of this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Given that much of the world’s container fleet passes through that waterway, there will inevitably be disruptions to global supply chains due to the rerouting,” said James Char, an associate research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The uncertainty dragged the Taiwan Taiex Shipping and Transportation Index which tracks major shipping and airline stocks, down 1.05 percent on Thursday. The index was down 4.6 percent since the beginning of the week.

with Michelle Guillang and AFP

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