MALACAÑANG on Wednesday said a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea has to be legally binding to ensure peace and stability in the region.
“I think the aspiration is that it should be somehow be binding because that is the key to stability in the region,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
“If it’s merely aspiration, then it will not promote the kind of peace and stability that they are hoping for,” he added.
Roque said talks on the code of conduct are expected to start early next year, with a target to “commence and conclude as soon as possible.”
He was optimistic that China will not oppose a “legally binding” code of conduct.
He noted that China, during the recently-concluded 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), expressed willingness to start the negotiations for the code of conduct.
“I think all parties want it to be somehow legally binding,” Roque told Palace reporters.
“I don’t think there is any Chinese opposition because one of the gains achieved from the recent Asean Summit is the fact that China has made it clear that they are now willing to commence talks on a code of conduct. So I don’t think that signifies opposition. On the contrary, I think that signifies a willingness to talk about a code of conduct,” he added.
The presidential spokesman made the remark after the leaders of 10-nation Southeast Asian bloc and China agreed to begin the talks for a code of conduct on the South China Sea.
China and the Asean, which groups 10 Southeast Asian nations, signed a framework agreement on the code of conduct in August.
A code of conduct would prevent conflict among the six nations that have competing claims to the South China Sea. The six claimants are China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
China has extensive claims to nearly the entire South China Sea based on its “nine-dash line” theory. The five other nations also have overlapping claims.
In the Asean chairman’s final statement on the recently concluded 31st Asean summit, the regional bloc’s member-states emphasized the need to exercise “non-militarization” and “self-restraint” in a bid to defuse tensions among claimants of the South China Sea.
Asean groups Southeast Asian countries Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei, and Laos. (SunStar Philippines)