China, ASEAN ready to start talks on code of conduct in S. China Sea
THE leaders of China and 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are ready to start negotiating a code of conduct on ways to defuse tension in the South China Sea, according to a statement that was to be issued after their meeting on Monday.
The leaders noted that the adoption in August of a framework of the Code of Conduct by the grouping and China “was an important milestone,” said the draft statement to be issued by the Philippines, as the chair of this year’s ASEAN summit, after the ASEAN-China summit.
“The Leaders announced that as a next step, ASEAN Member States and China will officially commence negotiations on the COC,” said the statement.
The statement, a copy of which was obtained by Kyodo News, however, did not provide any date for the start of the negotiations.
It also said the leaders “welcomed the positive developments between ASEAN and China on the South China Sea since the last Summit.”
China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has reclaimed a number of the disputed reefs and fortified them with military features over the past few years.
In July 2016, the Philippines won an arbitration award against China, declaring its historical claims as having no legal basis. But Beijing continues to reject the ruling.
The ASEAN foreign ministers and China signed a Declaration of Conduct by the Parties in the South China Sea in 2002, a looser set of guidelines for their actions in the contested sea. The grouping had since then been working to upgrade it.
In August this year, their foreign ministers adopted a framework of the Code of Conduct that “will facilitate the work for the conclusion of an effective COC on a mutually agreed timeline.”
However, despite the positive tone of the statement, the ASEANChina talks on starting the COC has been fraught with difficulties.
An ASEAN official source said that despite the beginning of talks on the long-overdue COC, how to get the Chinese to agree to make the COC legally binding compared to the DOC that preceded it, which was just declaratory and nonbinding, remains a challenge.
The Chinese have been “unwilling to commit” towards a legally binding COC, the source said.
It has also been difficult to get the Chinese to talk about how to deal with overfishing and halt its continued militarisation of outposts in the disputed waters, the source said.
The Philippines used to be a vocal critic of China’s assertiveness in regional waters, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, since taking power just weeks before the ruling, has engaged in diplomacy with Beijing and started focusing less on differences over conflicting territorial claims between them, in return for receiving economic cooperation from the Asian powerhouse.
Unlike the annual meetings of the ASEAN foreign ministers in July in which the joint statements are fiercely negotiated, the statements from the ASEAN summits are mainly prepared by the chair country – in this case the Philippines. – Kyodo
A Philippine Coast Guard ship patrols the vicinity of the ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, on Saturday.