THE long-delayed framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea may be finally completed by the middle of the year, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said on Wednesday.
In a news conference, the Cabinet official said that the Philippines, as chairman of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (Asean) this year, will intensify efforts to fast-track the discussions on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and eventually complete the COC.
Discreet discussions are underway and China has been “very cooperative” in the process, he added.
“The formulation of the COC is precisely being discussed right now. I don’t want to preempt anything by revealing further information but I hope that it will be achieved by mid-2017,” Yasay told reporters. “There is now a convergence of national interest to come up with the COC and we are fortunate to have gotten to this level.”
The COC has been in the works since 2002 but “intervening events” led to years of delays, Yasay said.
The COC might “open the door to speed up bilateral engagement” with China to eventually enforce the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal in the disputed waters.
The framework, Yasay disclosed, will include key elements and principles for the legally binding COC, and should be agreed upon by all parties unanimously.
“I hate to think about a party not to be bound by it or [deviating]from it. I’m sure that they will be bound by it,” he said.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration last year nullified China’s excessive claims in the contested waters as it upheld the Philippines’ rights to areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China does not recognize the arbitral award. Apart from the Philippines, other Asean countries that have overlapping claims in the South China Sea are Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Decision to set aside ruling welcomed
In Beijing, China’s foreign ministry welcomed Manila’s decision not to raise the July 2016 international arbitration ruling in this year’s Asean meetings.
Top officials from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs have said the ruling on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute would not be a topic of Asean meetings since it is a bilateral issue between the Philippines and China.
“This issue has never been and will not be an issue between China and Asean,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
“The issue of the South China Sea is only an issue between China and some Asean countries, rather than Asean as a whole.”
China will support the Philippines in its chairmanship of the regional bloc, Lu said.
Hosted by the Philippines, Asean 2017 will be officially launched on January 15 at the Davao SMX Convention Center, with the theme “We Are Partners for Change, Engaging the World.”
Asean events that will be held in the Philippines include the 30th Asean Summit in April, the 50th Asean Ministerial Meeting and related meetings coinciding with Asean’s 50th anniversary celebration in Metro Manila in August, and the 31st Asean Summit in Pampanga in November.