The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China are expected to endorse the framework of the code of conduct on the South China Sea on Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.
Foreign ministers from Asean and China will gather in Manila for the 50th Asean Ministerial Meeting this week.
They will be joined by their counterparts from Korea, Japan, United States, Canada and other countries considered as Asean dialogue partners.
“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. 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,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said.
“So after it is endorsed, after the approval 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 no timeline has been set for the approval of the code.
“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 toward realizing the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.
However, the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal nullifying China’s massive claim on the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) may not be included in the regional code of conduct, the DFA said.
Bolivar said the code of conduct should reflect the common interests of all parties involved.
He described the framework as an “outline” that defines the nature of the code of conduct, detail the legal basis for it, and state “how countries should behave in the region.”
“There is no specific mention… but the general headings, it’s an outline, the nature of the code of conduct, what principles govern the behaviors of [nations]. I would think it’s something more generic so there’s no specific mention [of the arbitral ruling],” he told reporters.
Bolivar, however, said the Philippines will push the arbitration ruling on the disputed sea.
“Anything that is to our interest, definitely, we will push,” the DFA spokesman said.
Efforts to finalize the pact have dragged on for years. In place of a legally binding code, Asean and China in 2002 settled for a mere declaration that called on all claimants to exercise restraint and stop new occupation of areas in the South China Sea.
But China refused to turn it into a legally binding “code of conduct,” using the intervening time to build its artificial islands in the area.
Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite partial counterclaims from Taiwan and several Asean members, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.