ASEAN, China to endorse S. China Sea code framework this weekend

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2017 05:28 PM

China Coast Guard vessels patrol past Philippine fishing boats at the disputed Scarborough Shoal, April 5, 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters

MANILA- A much-awaited agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to manage tensions in the South China Sea will be an "exercise in futility" amid Beijing's island-building in the disputed waters, a former Philippine foreign affairs chief said Thursday. 

China and the ASEAN are set to move closer to a binding code of conduct with the endorsement of a framework document later this week.

Both parties agreed to "ensure maritime security and safety" and "freedom of navigation and overflight" in the vital waterway, a draft of the document seen by ABS-CBN News showed. 

Countries such as the United States have raised these concerns with more than $5 trillion in trade passing through the South China Sea. 

Former Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo said the outline document would end up as "a lesson in motherhood" because of China's continuous land reclamation and installation of military facilities in the area.

"I think it will be an exercise in futility and I don't personally think China is really keen on making that as a substantive code of conduct," he told ABS-CBN News. 

China has continued island-building and militarization activities in the South China Sea, ignoring the Philippines' landmark international arbitration victory that invalidated its sweeping claims over nearly all of the waters. 

Amid its incursions, it reached an agreement with the ASEAN on a framework for a sea code, seen to replace the non-binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. 

The document included a "principle" that the code will not be "an instrument to settle territorial disputes or maritime delimitation issues." 

Among the "basic undertakings" set forth in the framework was the "promotion of trust and confidence" and the exercise of "self-restraint" among claimant parties.