Amidst continued tensions, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) begin a discussion on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea (SCS) this month as the Philippine government takes on the chairmanship of the ASEAN.
The discussion opened with the deliberation of two controversial issues, namely, the non militarization of occupied features and the limitation of activities in the SCS specifically those which involves China. The COC would ensure that the ASEAN and China would follow through with the legalities and diplomatic processes involved in resolving the territorial disputes.
Despite having improved ties with China over the last few months, the situation between the two claimants hasn’t really changed. Therefore, the challenge of ensuring the improvement of its relations lies on the development of the framework.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. admitted that he could not guarantee the approval of the COC by mid-2017 but the government will intensify efforts for its completion.
“We might term it as a framework for now. At the end of the day it can be an entire code of conduct,” he said.
Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte emphasized he wanted to avoid a conflict with China and saw no need to force it to abide with the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling which favored the Philippines. Because of this, the secretary said the ruling will not be included on the agenda of this year’s ASEAN summit. “This is a matter that we will be raising with China at some future time in bilateral talks” he said.
Alongside China, neighboring countries Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei also have claims on most of the riches in the SCS which has amount to about $5 trillion.