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 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.
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.