ASEAN, China officially approve draft COC framework

Patrice Gainsbourg
Agosto 6, 2017

Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, as a tense regional security forum began on Saturday with North Korea also under fire over its nuclear programme.

The 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also mentioned late Sunday in their 46-page statement a vague reference to an worldwide arbitration ruling past year that invalidated China's historical claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway.

Two Southeast Asian diplomats say disagreements over North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile tests and territorial disputes in the South China Sea have prevented the region's top diplomats from promptly issuing their joint communique after an annual summit in Manila over the weekend.

"Yes, the ministers endorsed the framework of the Code of Conduct for adoption in the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting on August 6", Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Robespierre Bolivar confirmed in a press briefing on Saturday.

Beijing claims more than 90 percent of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, overlapping smaller tracts that Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines say fall under their own flags.

Various diplomats said that Vietnam was likely to lose its battle to insert the strong language against China, with the Philippines as host of the talks wielding greater influence.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven manmade islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

The South China Sea has always been the most divisive issue for ASEAN, with China's influence looming large over its activities.

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The release of the statement came shortly after the ministers met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and agreed on a framework for conducting negotiations on the decades-long row that included key clauses advocated by China.

China has dramatically expanded its presence in the contested areas in recent years by building giant artificial islands that could be used as military bases, raising concerns it will eventually establish de facto control over the waters.

No time than now is better for all parties to value the sense of community that exists in the South China Sea, object to interference of any form, and move the COC negotiations in the right direction.

ASEAN and China finalized the framework for the COC in the South China Sea and endorsed by senior officials at the meeting in Guiyang, China in May.

When asked on their position regarding the code being legally binding, Wang said he would leave it up to the ministers.

"But of course the caveat there is, we have to have an effective Code of Conduct".

In pursuit of an accurate estimation, a team led by Bonnie Glaser with Center for Strategic & International Studies constructed a new dataset for South China Sea trade using common shipping routes, automatic identification system data and bilateral trade flows. "We have to have a code of conduct that all countries observe and adhere to", Bolivar said.

Another pressing issue in Manila will be the growing terrorism threat in the region.

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