By Roy Mabasa
Two weeks after the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and China adopted the Framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs has convened a meeting of member states of ASEAN and China in Manila to start discussions that would hopefully pave the way for negotiations on the COC.
Acording to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the COC would be taken up during the 22nd meeting of the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties (JWG-DOC) that was convened on Wednesday.
“The meeting in Manila will build upon the positive momentum that ASEAN and China have achieved in implementing the DOC and in moving forward with the talks on the COC,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.
“We expect a candid and productive dialogue aimed at confidence-building and identifying practical areas for cooperation in the South China Sea,” the Secretary said, adding that officials will also prepare the groundwork for the negotiations of the COC, which the Leaders of ASEAN and China are expected to announce at their summit in Manila in November.
According to Secretary Cayetano, practical cooperation between ASEAN and China in the South China Sea has been steadily improving over the last year.
“Since the last Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane in July 2016, we’ve been able to operationalize the Foreign Ministry-to-Foreign Ministry communication hotlines to allow our relevant officials to address any incidents in the region,” the Secretary said.
“We have also agreed to explore how to apply the principles of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea area,” Secretary Cayetano added.
Last year, ASEAN and China committed to finalize the Framework of the COC by mid-2017. The Framework was finalized and endorsed to the Foreign Ministers for adoption at the meeting of the ASEAN-China senior officials in Guiyang, China, in May, 2017, ahead of the mid-2017 deadline.
The Framework is an outline that will serve as a basis for negotiations of the Code.
The ongoing JWG-DOC is expected to discuss the modalities or the working approach for the negotiations of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as one of its agenda items.
The 22nd meeting of the JWG-DOC is part of the official ASEAN 2017 Chairmanship calendar announced by the Philippines at the beginning of the year. The Philippines last hosted the JWG-DOC meeting in March 2016.
The JWG meeting follows a two-day seminar on practical areas for cooperation in the South China Sea, which the DFA convened as part of its commitment to the full and effective implementation of the DOC.
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