ASEAN Struggles With South China Sea Code
Southeast Asian foreign ministers wrangled Monday over a proposed code of conduct aimed at easing dangerous maritime disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
But Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting in Cambodia said they still hoped to narrow their differences and sign the code with China by the end of the year.
The Philippines is urging its ASEAN counterparts to first agree on a common position before meeting with China, but others argued Beijing should be involved from the start, diplomatic sources said.
“I think the difference of opinion lies in the fact that we are advocating that a draft of the COC (code of conduct) be prepared before we sit down with China,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in Phnom Penh.
“Others are taking the view that China should be invited to come in for the initial discussion.”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said ASEAN should hear China’s views before presenting Beijing with a draft code.
He said it was important to “listen and we hear what China’s views are so that we can really develop a position that is cohesive and coherent”.
During Indonesia’s chairmanship of the regional bloc least year, ASEAN and China agreed on a set of guidelines for the proposed code, ending a nine-year impasse.
A senior Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP that countries were also divided on whether to include a dispute settlement mechanism in the code.
ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam along with China and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, a conduit for more than one-third of the world’s seaborne trade and half its traffic in oil and gas.
The Philippines and Vietnam accuse China of aggressively asserting its claims in recent years, leading to minor clashes that diplomats and military commanders fear could quickly escalate into major conflicts.
“The Philippines hopes that the code of conduct will be a real ‘move forward’ not merely in terms of form, but more importantly in substance,” del Rosario said.
Still, he said he hoped ASEAN and China would sign the code this year during Cambodia’s chairmanship of the regional bloc.