TOKYO — Asian countries will likely agree on a code of conduct for the South China Sea when regional leaders meet for a summit in November, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo said Monday.
Manalo spoke at a panel on the achievements and challenges of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the 23rd International Conference on the Future of Asia, organized here by Nikkei Inc.
The bloc, which turns 50 this year, should “become a model for the peaceful management and resolution of disputes” and for effective regional integration, he said.
Manalo predicted that productivity improvements from information technology and other innovations will ensure continued growth in the region. He also called for efforts to counter the rising tide of protectionism. “ASEAN’s network of economic arrangements with its external partners will help ensure that ASEAN remains firmly connected to the international economy,” the undersecretary said.
On Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, Manalo expressed hope of formally adopting a draft of a “framework for the code of conduct this November.” The new framework will ensure that conflicts are resolved peacefully through diplomatic channels before turning into military clashes, he stressed.
Myanmar national security adviser Thaung Tun likened ASEAN to smartphones. After describing how mobile phones evolved from bulky, costly devices into items indispensable to modern life, he spoke of the organization increasing its presence in the region.
ASEAN “has to make the right choices, and change to remain relevant in the next 50 years,” he said, highlighting the so-called 3 C’s of challenge, choice and change.
On human rights concerns regarding the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar, he simply explained that the “root cause is poverty.”
ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh also spoke out against protectionism. He outlined hopes for an agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal by the end of the year, as well as for putting the Trans-Pacific Partnership into effect even without American participation.
He said that while the TPP will be smaller without the U.S., there will not be a “very big difference” in investment and trade rules.