'Framework on S. China Sea code of conduct should include demilitarization'

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 01 2017 04:55 PM | Updated as of Aug 01 2017 05:21 PM

MANILA - The framework of the code of conduct in the South China Sea should include commitment from stakeholders not to militarize the disputed area, the former chief of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum said Tuesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday said the framework is expected to be endorsed by the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China when they meet in Manila on Sunday, and Medardo Abad Jr., former director of the regional forum, hopes it would include the demilitarization of the area.

"What I’m looking for are at least two issues in that code of conduct. One is a commitment not to militarize the area. I don’t know whether that feature is in the framework, but that to me should be there," he told ANC's Early Edition.

Abad added, there should also be a commitment to resolve the overlapping claims. 

"If you cannot resolve that now, what you need is an agreement towards that, some kind of a road map towards that," he said.

Though he maintained that he's not a military expert who can detail how "militarized" the disputed area is, Abad said the militarization "is not irreversible."

"I think these acts of nations are reflections of their threat perceptions. So if the threat perceptions have lowered down, they might change their strategy in the area. I think it is not irreversible," he said.

He also underscored that the principle of not militarizing the region should be applied to all claimant states.

"One of the principles in the Declaration of 2002 is to remain committed to peaceful settlement to disputes. If you’re really committed to that principle, then you should not militarize the area," he said.

Abad noted that the 2002 Declaration of a Code of Conduct outlined the reaffirmation of fundamental principles, set cooperative activities among the nations and committed them "not to occupy previously unoccupied islands, shoals, and rocks in the area."

With the third provision now "superseded by events" and is now "obsolete" after China reclaimed several features in the area, he emphasized that the two other elements are still important.

The competing claims to the sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits, have for decades made it one of Asia's potential military flashpoints.

A US think tank on several occasions released photos of the developments in the area, with China appearing to have largely completed major construction of military infrastructure on artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea and can now deploy combat planes and other military hardware there at any time.

The US had said argues Beijing's actions threaten freedom of navigation and overflight through the strategically vital waters. 

Senior officials from ASEAN and China in May agreed to a framework in the China's southwestern province of Guizhou, setting the parameters for a final, more detailed agreement yet to come.

A draft of the text describes the envisioned agreement as "a set of norms to guide the conduct of parties and promote maritime cooperation in the South China Sea," adding that it is "not an instrument to settle territorial disputes." - with Agence France-Presse