ASEAN to ne­go­ti­ate con­duct code for the South China Sea

Ties: China is ready to ex­pand its role to in­clude peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHANG YUE in Manila zhangyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China and mem­ber coun­tries of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions said on Mon­day they would be­gin talks on de­tails of a code of con­duct in the South China Sea.

Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang made the pro­posal at the 20th Chi­naASEAN (10+1) lead­ers’ meet­ing in Manila on Mon­day, the For­eign Min­istry said.

Late on Mon­day, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, ASEAN’s ro­tat­ing chair­man this year, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion agreed to start the talks on the code of con­duct, pres­i­den­tial spokesman Harry Roque told the Philip­pine Daily In­quirer.

“One of the out­comes of the meet­ings is to com­mence the ne­go­ti­a­tions on a sub­stan­tive and ef­fec­tive code of con­duct in the South China Sea,” Roque said in a state­ment.

In Mon­day’s meet­ing, ASEAN coun­tries re­sponded pos­i­tively to the start of ne­go­ti­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to a Chi­nese news re­lease af­ter the meet­ing.

The meet­ing was at­tended by all gov­ern­ment lead­ers of the 10 mem­ber coun­tries of the re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“De­vel­op­ing ties with ASEAN has al­ways been a pri­or­ity of China’s pe­riph­eral diplo­macy, and China-ASEAN ties have grown into the most dy­namic and en­riched ones among ASEAN’s re­la­tions with its di­a­logue part­ners and ASEAN mem­ber states,” Li said.

He said the code of con­duct frame­work on the South China Sea, which was passed in May dur­ing the Se­nior Of­fi­cials’ Meet­ing on the Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea, brings a key con­sen­sus from all par­ties on the South China Sea and has marked a milestone in peace­fully re­solv­ing the is­sue.

“We hope that fur­ther di­a­logue of the COC will deepen mu­tual trust and un­der­stand­ing, and reach con­sen­sus on the COC at an early date based on con­sul­ta­tion so that it can serve as a sta­bi­lizer of the South China Sea re­gion,” Li said.

Lee Hsien Loong, prime min­is­ter of Sin­ga­pore, which is the co­or­di­nat­ing state for China-ASEAN ties, also spoke.

Li’s plan calls for a Chi­naASEAN de­vel­op­ment vi­sion of a strate­gic part­ner­ship of co­op­er­a­tion for the year 2030. He said China is ready to ex­pand the ba­sis of Chi­naASEAN co­op­er­a­tion from po­lit­i­cal mu­tual trust and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to peo­pleto-peo­ple ex­changes to build China-ASEAN re­la­tions with a global vi­sion.

China is will­ing to work ASEAN’s de­vel­op­ment strat­egy into the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, Li said, adding that China is ready to is­sue a joint dec­la­ra­tion with ASEAN fur­ther deep­en­ing con­nec­tiv­ity and in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion.

Ruan Zongze, vice-pres­i­dent of the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said an­nounce­ment of the ne­go­ti­a­tions for a code of con­duct is of crit­i­cal im­por­tance, as it is a sig­nal that all ASEAN lead­ers have agreed to take steps to ne­go­ti­ate a code of con­duct.

“The dis­pute on the South China Sea has af­fected China-ASEAN re­la­tions in re­cent years and it was mainly be­cause the dec­la­ra­tion on the con­duct was not ef­fec­tively fol­lowed,” he said.

“To­day’s con­sen­sus in agree­ing to start the code of con­duct ne­go­ti­a­tion means sin­cer­ity and will­ing­ness to start sub­stan­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions on the code from the top lev­els of both China and ASEAN coun­tries, and this will bring more ef­fec­tive con­trol of the South China Sea dis­putes.”

Ex­pan­sion of co­op­er­a­tion, from trade and po­lit­i­cal trust to peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­change, means Sino-ASEAN ties are now aim­ing for a longterm vi­sion, he said, adding that po­lit­i­cal mu­tual trust be­tween China and ASEAN is grounded, while trade re­la­tions have been the high­light of China-ASEAN co­op­er­a­tion in re­cent years.

We hope that fur­ther di­a­logue of the COC (code of con­duct) will deepen mu­tual trust and un­der­stand­ing.” Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang

Devel­op­ments over the past few days re­veal the broad­en­ing con­sen­sus among the mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions and China that they, and they alone, are ones who should get their mar­itime house in or­der, and they are fully ca­pa­ble of do­ing so. Just hours af­ter US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump rec­om­mended him­self to his Viet­namese host as “a very good mediator and ar­bi­tra­tor” for the South China Sea dis­putes, Xi Jin­ping, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party of China Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, and his Viet­namese coun­ter­part reached a con­sen­sus on ap­pro­pri­ately manag­ing the two neigh­bors’ mar­itime dis­putes.

And Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang an­nounced on Mon­day that China and the mem­bers of ASEAN will of­fi­cially start ne­go­ti­a­tions on their planned Code of Con­duct in the South China Sea. Agree­ment on this would pro­vide a means of se­cur­ing a peace­ful ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ment for the de­vel­op­ment of all coun­tries in the neigh­bor­hood.

As Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte stated in his char­ac­ter­is­tic forth­right man­ner on Sun­day, the mem­bers of ASEAN and China “have to be friends” de­spite the at­tempts of “other hot­heads” that want to pro­voke trou­ble.

The South China Sea dis­putes, which in­volve China and some ASEAN mem­bers, have ex­isted for decades, but ap­proached boil­ing point last year be­cause of the in­sti­ga­tions by some coun­tries out­side the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly the United States and Ja­pan, to cre­ate di­vi­sions within the bloc and with China.

Their scare­mon­ger­ing about an ex­pan­sion­ist, ag­gres­sive China flex­ing its mil­i­tary mus­cles and seek­ing to “con­trol” the vi­tal wa­ter­way pro­voked un­founded fears that this was in­deed the case.

The calm that has pre­vailed is the re­sult of Bei­jing’s painstak­ing en­deav­ors to ex­plain its in­ten­tions and re­as­sure its neigh­bors that it does not seek to re­strict free pas­sage in the busy wa­ter­way or pur­sue de­vel­op­ment at their ex­pense, but rather seeks to ex­pand the con­ver­gence of in­ter­ests with them and pro­mote greater co­op­er­a­tion for the ben­e­fit of all.

That Xi, as pres­i­dent of China, is pay­ing state vis­its to Viet­nam and Laos be­sides at­tend­ing the APEC fo­rum, and Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang is pay­ing a for­mal visit to the Philip­pines af­ter at­tend­ing the ASEAN sum­mit, are un­mis­tak­able signs of the im­por­tance China places on good neigh­borly re­la­tions, and the com­mit­ment the coun­try is mak­ing to its es­tab­lished prin­ci­ples of amity and sin­cer­ity in its re­la­tions with its neigh­bors.

As Duterte said, no one in the re­gion wants war and can ill-af­ford any vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion. To en­sure such a dis­as­trous sce­nario does not ma­te­ri­al­ize, the im­prove­ment in the sit­u­a­tion should not be taken for granted, and all par­ties should work to­gether to avoid any mis­cal­cu­la­tion that might res­ur­rect ten­sions.

ROMEO RANOCO / REUTERS

Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang (fifth from left), Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte (white shirt) and lead­ers of nine other ASEAN economies stand for a photo at the 20th ASEAN-China Sum­mit in Manila, the Philip­pines, on Mon­day. Li will also at­tend the 20th ASEAN-China, Ja­pan and South Korea (10+3) lead­ers’ meet­ing, as well as the 12th East Asia Sum­mit.

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