THE 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China have agreed to adopt a framework for a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday.
In a press conference in Malacanang, Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said the framework of the code of conduct would be one of the expected outcomes of the Asean-China Ministerial Meeting on Sunday.
“We have a commitment from Asean and China to finalize, to approve the framework of the Code of Conduct within the chairmanship year of the Philippines, which is this year. Having said that, we expect that the foreign ministers will endorse the framework as it is currently approved by the senior officials in — last May — to endorse it during their meeting on August 6 in Manila,” Bolivar told reporters.
“So after it is endorsed, after the approvals process has been done, dealt with, we expect that the talks on the actual Code of Conduct will begin in earnest,” he added.
But Bolivar said they didn’t want to put timeline on when to see the actual code of conduct but added it would begin as soon as the approval process of the framework was over.
“This is actually a very big step that we have a framework that will be endorsed by the ministers in a few days. As you may recall, there was a different strategic environment in 2002 when we adopted the Declaration of Conduct to Parties in the South China Sea. For this particular year, in fact since late last year, we have a commitment from Asean and China to complete this framework and this is already a major step towards realizing the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.
Negotiations for an actual code have taken 15 years. The Asean and China adopted a non-binding “declaration of conduct” in 2002 to discourage hostile acts. All sides agreed not to use threats or force to assert claims.
But China refused to turn it into a legally binding “code of conduct”, using the intervening time to build its artificial islands.
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several Asean members including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Asked if an international court ruling won by the Philippines against China on claims in the disputed sea would be part of the talks on the code, Bolivar said, “There’s specific mention if I’m not mistaken…I would think it’s something more generic so there’s no specific mention of it (arbitral).”
Bolivar described the framework as an “outline” that defined the nature of the code of conduct, detail the legal basis for it, and state “how countries should behave in the region.”
The document was finalized ahead of time and Bolivar was hopeful that this “momentum” would carry over to the talks on the code of conduct itself.
“Now what we’re trying to achieve is more than just binding, it’s an effective code of conduct. Yung talagang irerespeto at susundin ng lahat. We’re hopeful, because of the commitment between the Asean and China, first and foremost, we finish the framework ahead of time,” he said.
“As soon as the approval’s process is finished, the next joint working group meeting on the COC is expected to begin consultations on the code of conduct,” Bolivar added.
The Asean and China foreign ministers will gather in Manila for the 50th Asean Ministerial Meeting.
Events will begin on August 2 and will culminate on August 8 with a “grand commemorative celebration” of the 50th anniversary of Asean.
Foreign ministers from Korea, Japan, United States, Canada, and other countries considered as Asean dialogue partners will be present as well.