OCTOBER 30, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - President Arroyo will seek stronger ties among the Philippines, China, and other Southeast Asian countries on defense and security matters when she meets Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao today in Nanning City in Guangzi province.

Mrs. Arroyo said a stronger security partnership would greatly help in the global fight against terrorism and other transnational crimes.

She said she would also raise in the Asean-China commemorative summit which begins today in Nanning some security issues like North Korea’s continuous development of nuclear weapons and the need for a code of conduct in the South China Sea. The summit is expected to focus on economic matters. Asean stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The summit commemorates China’s and Asean’s 15 years of cooperation.

The Philippines, being the chair of Asean this year "will make sure’’ that regional security will be discussed substantially during the summit, she said.

"This is a very good opportunity to discuss not only economic but security issues. When we get together, the heads of government, you know it helps tie the region. It strengthens solidarity in times of crisis," she said.

"The threats to regional security would be the transnational crimes, the North Korean situation and the possible conflict in the South China Sea. By working together on the North Korean issue we can promote stability," the Chief Executive said in an interview with columnist Emil Jurado while on a cruise on Lijiang River, one of the tourist attractions here.

Mrs. Arroyo stressed that "terrorism knows no bounds," hence the need for stronger security ties.

"I have been proposing that we have a cooperation between ASEAN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to broaden and strengthen fight against terrorism," she said.

SCO is an inter-governmental international organization founded in Shanghai in 2001 by six countries — China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The President said she would repeat this suggestion to Premier Wen during their meeting today.

Mrs. Arroyo said security was already "part of the landmark of our relationship with China now."

"Not only in terms of economic and trade, there’s also development and the political and sense of security. And therefore what we should do is to have substantial and important projects in that deepening of these exchanges," she said.

"The most important thing for us is to work together to fight both traditional and non-traditional security threats — drugs, criminality, kidnapping, terrorism. These are the important things that we must work on together," Mrs. Arroyo said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines’ defense and security relations with China improved substantially after the two sides signed an agreement in 2004 during her state visit to this country.

"China is the key solution to the North Korean issue because North Korea is so economically dependent on China for trade," she said.

The Philippines joined the world in condemning Pyongyang’s nuclear test and Mrs. Arroyo offered the Philippines as a venue for the six party talks involving the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea. Code of conduct With regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Mrs. Arroyo said she would propose the adoption of a more binding code of conduct among claimant countries and a joint exploration for oil and other resources in the area.

She said there would be a joint statement between Asean and China to include a "sentence or phrase that says we will work towards having a regional code of conduct in the South China Sea."

The joint statement in general will outline the key "deliverables" in the future in terms of political security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation between Asean and China.

She said the claimant countries only managed to come up with a declaration of conduct that was signed several years ago.

"The difference between that is that the code will be more obligatory," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"At first they were saying, ‘well that’s just a declaration.’ That’s very weak. But because we carried it out, then it shows even if it’s just a declaration it can be strong if there is political will to carry it out," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"But at the same time anyway because of the 15 years of friendship and partnership, and if we will be able to move forward, it (code of conduct) will be part of the deliverable... moving forward," she said.

The President noted that reaching an accord on the South China Sea was an achievement because it had been a contentious issue for a long time now.

She also cited the significance of the joint seismic research among the Philippines, China and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

"It was really considered a diplomatic feat we were able to get the three countries together to work on the joint research," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"So by our dialogue transforming the South China Sea from an area of conflict to an area of cooperation through the declaration of the conduct and going beyond now we have completed our seismic research, we can promote stability," the President said.

She said she would want the defense and security links with China to improve instead of concentrating on "conflicting games."

"We must concentrate on what we have done together and that is very, very important for me," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The South China Sea is considered a potential flashpoint as some of the islets and reefs in it are claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Indonesia.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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