TO CALL negotiations between China and the ten-country Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) over rival claims in the South China Sea “drawn out” would be a gross understatement. At the centre of the matter is an unsquareable circle: the competing claims of China and several South-East Asian countries. Nobody wants to go to war; nobody wants to be accused of backing down.
Still, at a meeting of senior Chinese and ASEAN officials on May 18th, something happened: the two sides agreed on a “framework” for a code of conduct. An official from Singapore (which currently co-ordinates ASEAN-China relations) called the agreement a sign of “steady progress”.
ASEAN members called for a legally binding code of conduct as far back as 1996. In 2002, ASEAN and China signed a “declaration of conduct”, which recognised that a fully fledged code would be nice to have; it also committed both sides to…Continue reading