Asean, China to tackle Code of Conduct

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Senior officials of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will meet in October to discuss the full implementation of the Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC), Acting Thai Foreign Minister Sihasak Phuangketkeow said on Friday.

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Phuangketkeow is in Manila to discuss with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario their countries’ bilateral relations and the political situation in Bangkok.

During a press conference, Phuangketkeow confirmed that Thailand will continue to be a country coordinator for the Asean-China bilateral dialogue. The meeting will be held in Thailand.

“We have done our best to move forward the relationship as well to contribute whatever it can with regard to the issues in the South China Sea. We think that these issues are important to peace and stability of the region as a whole,” he said.

He expressed concern for the situation in the disputed region, and urged countries to defuse the tension and reach “a confidence-building measure and more cooperation wherever possible.”

“What is important is the need for self-restraint on the part of all parties, commitment to peaceful resolution and we see arbitration is as means of peaceful resolution and most importantly, we want to see the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” the Thai official said.

The declaration, signed by China and Asean in 2002, aims to reduce political tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

The code, on the other hand, is a more binding edict enshrined in the declaration. It hopes to further promote peace and stability in the economically vital sea lane.

Last year, the 10-member bloc also met with China to discuss the implementation of the declaration and the conclusion of the code.

Although the multilateral meeting was a first for China since the disputes began in 2012, no consensus was reached in terms of agreeing to the early conclusion of the COC and the easing of aggressive steps in claiming territories in the region.

Several leaders of the bloc is looking at discussing the proposal during the Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM), but no official agenda or details have been released.

China claims almost 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea based on the nine-dash line map. Taiwan also has the same basis for its claims because the map was drawn by Taiwan’s ruling Koumintang Party.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam have claims to parts of the sea which is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and mineral reserves.

Thailand, though not a claimant, is part of the Asean, along with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Phuangketkeow said one of the main purposes of his visit to Manila was to talk about the political situation in Thailand.

The Philippines has raised alert level 1 there because of the political insecurity following a successful coup and continuous protests against the Shinawatra family.

“I underlined the commitment to democracy, democratic values and also explained to his Excellency [del Rosario]the so-called roadmap that is now being implemented to put Thailand on that path towards full-pledge democracy,” Phuangketkeow said.

The three-step roadmap, del Rosario said, will start the path towards a “normalization process” and will be “consistent with the principles of democracy, the rule of law, as well as the promotion of interest and will of the Thai people.”

The process involved reconciliation, reforms and then finally, an election.

Although the department will not be lifting the alert level 1 it issues on Thailand, del Rosario noted that the department immediately eased from alert level 2 to 1 as soon as some normalcy was reported in the situation there.

Crisis alert level 2 would present restrictions, including the deployment of workers and even tourists to Thailand.

Phuangketkeow said the government appreciates that the travel advisory has been lowered from alert level 2 to 1.

“We want to welcome more visitors from the Philippines,” he said.

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