MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday said the Philippines will push for its interests when it negotiates a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea with its regional neighbors, including major sea claimant China.
DFA acting Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said ASEAN and China’s foreign ministers are expected to endorse the framework on the code of conduct when they meet in Manila on August 6.
The endorsement of the framework will pave the way for talks on the crafting of the actual code of conduct.
“Anything that is to our interest, definitely we will push,” Bolivar told reporters in a chance interview in Malacañang.
Bolivar, however, could not give an assurance that the Philippines will insist on having Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing's maritime claims used as one of the bases in the crafting of the code.
“Th negotiations evolve. It’s basically 11 countries [10 ASEAN and China] negotiating around the table,” he said.
Senior officials from ASEAN and China in May agreed to a framework in 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."
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines-China relations warmed after the firebrand leader chose to downplay Manila’s sea dispute with Beijing as he pursued warmer economic ties with the world’s second largest economy.
Duterte said he would only raise the arbitration ruling favoring Manila at the right time, even as China continues to enhance its facilities in artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago, a portion of which sits within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Bolivar, meanwhile, said the crafting of the framework on the code of conduct is a significant step for the region in terms of peacefully settling disputes in the South China Sea, a vital sea lane where $5 trillion of goods pass through annually.
For years, Southeast Asian countries have been attempting to craft a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, but some nations, including the Philippines, had accused China of dragging its feet.
The code will replace the non-legally binding 2002 declaration on the code of conduct of parties in the South China Sea.