MANILA - A professor on maritime laws and affairs believes the agreed framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea is putting Southeast Asian countries at a disadvantage against China.
Speaking to ANC, Professor Jay Batongbacal said a condition set by China upon the adoption of the sea code draft framework gives the superpower the discretion on when the actual negotiations would start.
Batongbacal was referring to the 2 conditions mentioned by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Manila over the weekend.
The framework, said Wang, is a solid foundation for talks that could start this year, if "the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and on the premise that there is no major interference from outside parties."
"'Generally stable' can mean anything, and for China, any disruption by any external party can also mean anything. That is an unfair condition to place on these negotiations," Batongbacal said Monday.
Batongbacal, who is the director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, believes China is also discouraging the ASEAN countries from engaging with external partners.
He said China might penalize the Southeast Asian nations if it believes these conditions are not met, derailing further the long-sought negotiations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
"I think the purpose really is to prevent ASEAN from seeking external partners, whether in terms of military, diplomatic, or even commercial interests. That is a bad sign because we know the rest of the region is very much linked in various ways to external partners," he said.
The professor believes ASEAN countries must first come together as a bloc and find their common grounds before dealing with the Asian economic superpower.