Fifteen years after their first joint declaration on the South China Sea disputes, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China have agreed to adopt a framework to guide future negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the contested sea.
The Asean foreign ministers and China would formally endorse the document called “Framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” during their meeting in Manila on Aug. 6, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.
The ministers’ meeting is part of the week-long Asean-related meetings the Philippines will chair from Aug. 2 to 8, when the regional bloc will mark its 50th anniversary.
The foreign ministers will meet from Aug. 5 to 8 at the Philippine International Convention Center.
“We expect the Asean-China foreign ministers to endorse the Framework of the Code of Conduct [in the South China Sea] at their meeting on Sunday,” DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said on Monday.
The framework was finalized during the senior officials meeting in Guiyang, China, last May, he said.
The foreign ministers will formally adopt the document at their regular meeting this August.
Bolivar said the foreign ministers’ endorsement would “cement the commitment” of the Asean and China to negotiate a binding Code of Conduct to avoid violent confrontations among the seven claimant-nations to the South China Sea.
A resource-rich area with strategic sea-lanes, the South China Sea is claimed partly by Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei as well as Taiwan and China, which claims almost the entire sea.
After the ministers endorse the framework, this will be elevated to the leaders who will hold their summit in November.
Details of the framework would not be made public, according to the DFA.
The Philippines has spearheaded having a binding code of conduct among the claimants in the South China Sea to maintain the status quo and prevent disputes from escalating into violent confrontations.
When the parties could not agree on a legally-binding code, the Philippines in 2002 steered the adoption of a nonbinding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea that calls on claimants to exercise restraint and stop new occupation.
Since then, efforts to come up with a binding code of conduct have dragged on.
Tension erupted between the Philippines and China from 2011 to 2016 due to numerous incursions by Chinese ships within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
China occupied Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and went on massive reclamation and construction of suspected military facilities in other features in the West Philippine Sea.
Bilateral relations only turned around in 2016 when President Duterte assumed office and set aside the territorial dispute, including the country’s 2016 victory before an international arbitration court that invalidated China’s sweeping claims.
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