MANILA – Southeast Asian legislators on Saturday agreed to step up efforts towards a consensus on the binding code of conduct among parties in the South China Sea dispute, envisioned to ease tension in the potential flashpoint region.
Philippine House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, this year’s president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), reaffirmed the group’s commitment “to a cohesive and rules-based ASEAN community that is peaceful, secure and stable.”
“For this purpose, we have intensified our work towards fully harmonizing the laws of member-states and achieving consensus on a code of conduct consistent with ASEAN agreements and commitments,” Alvarez said in a statement..
The official issued a press statement in lieu of a media briefing originally scheduled after AIPA’s interface with ASEAN leaders Saturday afternoon.
AIPA’s meeting with the bloc’s heads of state was among highlights of the four-day meeting among the region’s legislators, which sought to align regional legislative agenda with the bloc’s economic, political, security and socio-cultural targets.
ASEAN has long been working towards a binding code of conduct to govern the contested South China Sea, considered crucial amid China’s intensified militarization and reclamation activities in the disputed waters.
It is envisioned to supplant a non-binding declaration that has failed to ease tension in the resource-rich waters.
China, a military superpower, is claiming nearly all of the resource-rich waters, conflicting with partial claims of the five other parties, including ASEAN member states Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
In opening the ASEAN Summit Saturday morning, Duterte, known to be nurturing friendlier ties with China, took a seeming swipe at Beijing as he emphasized the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
“We must faithfully adhere to supremacy of the law and rely on the primacy of rules as responsible members of the international community,” Duterte said in his remarks.
This even while he had said the Philippines’ historic July 2016 arbitral victory, which had invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, was a “non-issue” at leaders’ discussions at Manila’s ASEAN hosting.
China has ignored the ruling, asserting "indisputable sovereignty" over the waters.
The ASEAN is set to issue a statement early Saturday evening that is expected to touch on the disputes, without making any direct reference to China or the Philippines’ legal victory.