November 21, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

China, ASEAN agree on draft
Code of Conduct on South China Sea row

SENIOR OFFICIALS of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday agreed on a draft framework on the much-anticipated Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea row -- 15 years after all parties committed to creating it.

The draft framework for the CoC came as the Philippines, which chairs this year’s ASEAN meetings, started a bilateral consultation with Beijing on Friday over their competing claims in the resource-rich sea. Both events happened in China’s Guiyang City.

Thursday’s meeting on the framework on the CoC was co-chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong. China’s foreign ministry said the document had been agreed upon, but gave no details of its contents, according to a report by Reuters.

“All parties have vowed to continue to constructively advance the negotiations toward the early conclusion of the COC,” Mr. Liu was quoted as saying in a report by state-run Xinhua News Agency.

“The draft framework contains only the elements and is not the final rules, but the conclusion of the framework is a milestone in the process and is significant. It will provide a good foundation for the next round of consultations,” Mr. Liu was also quoted as telling the South China Morning Post.

The draft framework will be presented to the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China at their post-ministerial conference in Manila in August “for their consideration,” the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement issued yesterday.

The document was completed ahead of the mid-2017 goal set by the leaders of ASEAN and China, and “contains elements which the parties have agreed upon,” the DFA statement added.

Besides China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have overlapping claims on the South China Sea.

The Philippines last month hosted the 30th ASEAN summit, which was highlighted by a watered-down communique that evaded reference to China’s maritime encroachment in the South China Sea. Analysts have expressed disappointment over ASEAN’s apparent soft stance on China’s aggressive activities in the sea -- with some saying this response could embolden Beijing to step up its incursion in the area, thereby undermining ASEAN’s centrality.

The second leaders-level meeting that the Philippines will convene this year will be held in November, together with ASEAN’s dialogue partners such as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.

Aside from the Philippines, other member states of the ASEAN include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.