MANILA – Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to finish before the end of the year a binding Code of Conduct that would govern claimants to the South China Sea, one of the region’s flashpoints.
“We are also asking for the [code of] conduct. That’s about it. No terms of reference, except you want the Code of Conduct enacted by the, at the very least, before the end of the year, so just everybody will feel comfortable sailing there,” President Duterte said in a press conference to conclude his debut hosting of the ASEAN Summit here.
“We never talked about any build-up or something. It would be useless, except fighting terrorism… Any other military buildup today is pretty much useless,” Duterte said.
The ASEAN has been pushing for a binding code of conduct with China, who has been most aggressive in pushing for its expansive claims in the South China Sea.
China escalated its incursions in the waters, including seizing control of Scarborough (Panatag Shoal), a traditional Philippine fishing ground, in 2012.
The binding code is envisioned to deter incursions in the disputed waters, which have continued despite the adoption of a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.
Other than the Philippines, ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam have respective claims in the waters.
Duterte’s friendlier stance towards China has led to a turnaround in ties between the two sides, with China eventually allowing Filipino fishermen to go back to their traditional fishing grounds just off Masinloc, Zambales.
The Philippine leader said he only wants peace in the waters, reiterating his call for a peaceful resolution of disputes in his speech opening the summit Saturday morning.
“For those who are peace-loving just like me, I do not want trouble. You have to be very careful,” Duterte said.
Duterte called the South China Sea dispute one of Asia’s flashpoints, including the nuclear threat in the Korean Peninsula and enduring conflict in the Middle East.
While he did not discuss the South China Sea question at length during the press conference, Duterte’s responses made it apparent that the ASEAN leaders indeed did not have a discussion on the Philippines’ July 2016 international arbitration victory which nullified China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
China has continued to shun the ruling, claiming that it has historic sovereign rights over the waters.