President Benigno Aquino III on Monday night maintained that the United States should have a role in maintaining peace and stability in the disputed West Philippine Sea as it has interests there.

Although he said he is aware that the U.S. does not take sides in the disputes, Aquino said Washington has “a strategic stake in the freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce, and the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

He said the Southeast Asian region is very diverse and its harmony can easily be disrupted by sheer political, military or economic might.

“Imbalance, as we know, may lead to instability,” said Aquino, who was in Cambodia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

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Both China and the Philippines have mishandled their dispute over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, a leading British scholar said Monday, noting Beijing’s obstinacy about its sovereignty claims and Manila’s ill-advised decision to send a naval vessel to confront Chinese fishing boats last April.

This developed as the Philippines vowed to keep speaking out on the global stage about its territorial row with China, as an effort by Southeast Asian nations to forge a united stance at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia crumbled.

In a television interview Monday, Martin Jacques, author of the best-selling book “When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order,” said China could have opted for “joint development” with the other claimants of the resource-rich Spratlys region instead of asserting its sovereignty over it.

The ensuing cordon by Chinese ships around Panatag Shoal after a war of words with the Philippines raised the specter that the title of Jacques book was a fast-approaching reality.

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