A binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea is needed for stability in Southeast Asia and the East Asia region, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday as he gave assurances that the adoption of such an agreement is a priority of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The President had earlier said China agreed to the “fast tracking “of a legally binding Code of Conduct in the disputed waters and islands during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other Related Summits held in Manila this week.
“The consultations on the Code of Conduct was rather substantial because the different countries contemplated a Code of Conduct that would be legally binding. This was clear from the language also of the framework agreement that they previously entered [in August]which signaled the commencement of the talks for the code of conduct,” Roque said in a news conference.
“This is a priority of President [Duterte] because unless it becomes legally binding, we would not achieve the kind of predictability that all the countries want. All the parties want it to be somehow legally binding. Otherwise, if it’s merely aspirational, then it will not promote the kind of peace and stability that they are hoping for,” he added.
Asean member states have an existing and non-binding Declaration of Code of Conduct in South China Sea with China which provides that “parties should undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”
Asean groups the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei. Three Asean members have overlapping claims on the South China Sea — the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Roque, however, admitted that a legally binding Code of Conduct is not cast in stone.
“The aspiration is that it should somehow be binding because that is the key to stability in the region. We will see how negotiations go. But as far as we’re concerned, we would want it to be legally binding. Still, we have reached a milestone because for the first time, we have an agreement that countries should conduct themselves in a certain manner,” Roque added.