SOUTHEAST Asian’s foreign ministers and China are set to endorse the framework for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea during the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s (Asean) ministerial meeting on August 6 in Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.
DFA spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said the draft COC Framework in the disputed waters that would be formally endorsed this week was approved by senior officials from Southeast Asian bloc and Chinese government last May.
“Since last year, we have a commitment from Asean and China to complete this framework and this is already a major step towards realizing the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” Bolivar told a press conference.
“The framework basically presents an outline of the Code of Conduct. So after it is endorsed, after the approval’s process has been done, dealt with, we expect that the talks on the actual Code of Conduct will begin in earnest,” he added.
Bolivar said the proposed framework for the code of conduct in the South China Sea was not just legally-binding but was also “effective” as it covers the interests of sea claimants.
He, however, said that the framework might not contain the arbitral court’s ruling that backed the petition of the Philippines against China’s invalid nine-dash line claims.
“There’s no specific mention of [ruling on the South China Sea] if I’m not mistaken. I haven’t seen the actual, to tell you honestly. But the general endings, it’s an outline, the nature of the Code of Conduct, what principles govern the behaviors of [the nations]. I would think it’s something more generic so there’s no specific mention [of the arbitral ruling],” Bolivar said.
“In broad strokes, definitely, there’s an identification of the legal basis. What are we trying to accomplish in terms of the legal basis [of the COC]? And then the principles of the law of the seas. And then perhaps, a statement on how countries should behave in the region,” the DFA spokesman added.
Four Asean member-states – Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam – are claiming parts of the South China Sea, vast waters rich in mineral and oil deposits. China and Taiwan, on the other hand, are claiming most of its features.
The endorsement of COC framework came amid Asean leaders’ subdued joint statement in April as they refused to contest China’s reclamation and militarization activities in the disputed waters.
The framework for a legally-binding COC is meant to address the disputes among the four Asean nations and China.
’No security threats’
Starting from August 2 to 8, the 50th Asean ministerial and post-ministerial conferences will be simultaneously held in the Philippine International Convention Center and Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.
Bolivar said foreign ministers and senior officials from 27 nations will arrive in Manila to grace the event.
National Capital Region Police Office director Oscar David Albayalde said the authorities already laid measures to foil any security threats from various terrorist groups.
Albayalde said around 13,000 uniformed personnel would be deployed to ensure the safety and security of about 1,700 participants in the Asean meeting.
Albayalde made an assurance that there was no reported presence of Maute terror group, who is currently engaged in a battle with government troops in Marawi City.
He added that the security personnel was continuously monitoring “critical areas” that might serve as lairs or safe houses of suspected threat groups purportedly roving around Metro Manila, such as former members of Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) extremist group.
“With all our efforts, we are very much ready to secure the leaders, the ministers coming here,” the Manila police chief said.
“As of this time, so far, there’s no threat, although we are monitoring the critical areas these critical areas, the enclaves we’re saying. And we are monitoring some groups who are actually present here in Metro Manila, who are Balik Islam and other former members of the ABB. So these are all being monitored in relation to this meeting,” he added.
‘Countering terrorism, extremism’
Bolivar said the foreign ministers of Southeast Asian bloc are also expected to discuss their resolve to bolster cooperation in addressing violent extremism and terrorism.
“Definitely, counterterrorism and countering violent extremism is high on the agenda of Asean and we expect the ministers to have a fairly extensive discussion on the topic,” he said.
Bolivar said issues concerning terror threats was also one of the expected “outcome documents” that would be released by Asean ministers.
He, however, said he “cannot really go into the details yet, as of now.”
The issue of terrorism is vital especially now that the Philippines is confronted by atrocities of Islamic State-affiliated Maute fighters who occupied war-torn Marawi City in a bid to establish an enclave for Southeast Asian terrorists.
Maute group’s attacks in Marawi City compelled President Rodrigo Duterte, this year’s Asean chair, to place Mindanao under the martial rule to thwart any hostile activities in the southern city and possible spillover to other key cities in the besieged region.
Martial law in Mindanao will take effect until December 31, 2017.
According to government report as of July 31, the death toll in Marawi armed conflict has risen to 661 as the government forces aimed at liberating the conflict-torn city at the soonest time possible.
The casualties include 502 Islamist fighters, 114 security troops, and 45 civilians. (SunStar Philippines)