Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 6) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are a step closer to a resolution on disputed waters — but also to the more complicated process of drafting a Code of Conduct (COC) on South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced Sunday the ASEAN and China adopted the framework for the code during their ministerial meeting.
“Today, the 11 ministers agreed upon and adopted the COC framework draft, and we announce that some time within the year we will start consultation on the text of the COC,” said Wang.
The framework is an outline of the future code, which will provide guidelines in dealing with the maritime row in contested waters. It aims to protect commercial and non-military activities in the disputed area.
Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said leaders of the ASEAN and China are expected to announce the formal start of negotiations for the code at the ASEAN Summit at Clark, Pampanga in November.
Wang also revealed the talks would push through if a precondition was followed.
“When the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable, and if there is no major disruption from outside parties — with that as the precondition — then we will consider during the November leaders’ meeting… [announcing] the official start of the COC consultation,” said Wang.
While the minister did not refer to specific outside parties, he previously urged the ASEAN to resist outside influence when dealing with the dispute.
“If there are still some non-regional forces or forces in the region — they don’t want to see stability in the South China Sea and they still want to stir up trouble…we need to stand together and say ‘no’ to them together,” Wang said in a speech at the Foreign Affairs Department on July 25.
China has been at odds with the United States over the latter’s freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, including the area claimed by the Philippines.
A joint working group is set to meet in late August to “discuss modalities for the negotiations of the actual code of conduct,” said Bolivar.
Legally binding code?
When asked on their position regarding the code being legally binding, Wang said he would leave it up to the ministers.
“We don’t want to prejudge the result of that,” said Wang. “One thing is clear: whether it is the 2002 [Declaration of the Conduct] or the future COC, all the 11 countries, once they put their signatures on the document, they shoulder responsibilities and they need to observe the document.”
Wang is referring to the Declaration of the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, a 2002 document that was meant to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the maritime conflict.
However, the agreement did not stop China from building military structures over disputed islands.
The ASEAN is set to push for a legally binding code of conduct, Secretary-General Lê Luong Minh told CNN Philippines on Saturday.
The arrangement entails that parties which violate the code may be held accountable for their actions, which analysts say may not sit well with China.
Minh believes the DOC failed to prevent incidents that “further escalated tension and complicated the dispute.”
“The DOC has never been fully and effectively implemented. The fact alone is it’s not a legally binding document. So…the new code of conduct, for it to have any significance or importance, it would have to be a legally binding document,” said Minh.
Wang was also Foreign Minister when the DOC was adopted.
CNN Philippines Digital Producer Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.