China, ASEAN ready to start talks on code of con­duct in S. China Sea

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

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

Photo: EPA

A Philip­pine Coast Guard ship pa­trols the vicin­ity of the ASEAN Sum­mit in Manila, Philip­pines, on Sat­ur­day.

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