MANILA - The code of conduct in the South China Sea will not prohibit the presence of western powers like the United States in the region, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., said Monday.
"The first thing I insisted on is this, here is the non-negotiable: a code of conduct will never exclude a western power, well the United States from the area…That’s the mutual defense treaty," he told ANC's Headstart.
"With that, you have the assurance of a balance of power in the region and then we negotiate how we’re going to deal with each other on this and that," he said.
The code of conduct would not deal with "geographical extents," but was "intended to avoid an open conflict" in the area, he said.
There is currently a "long, Levitical" negotiating draft, which he wants reduced to about 8 pages, Locsin said. He said he has pressed for a negotiation on the code of conduct despite the COVID-19 pandemic even if the participants do not meet face to face.
He noted that the code of conduct will only be passed in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through a consensus, and there is currently "dribbling" going on within the bloc.
"So far, they’re not exactly pushing it," he said when asked if he sees a problem among the Philippines' neighbors.
"Nobody is dropping the ball, but there is dribbling going on. I am tired of the dribbling...I will not conceal the fact that it was our side that dribbled it," he said, referring to the ASEAN party.
The ASEAN is a 10-member bloc composed of the Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The code of conduct was envisioned to upgrade the ASEAN and China's 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea by having a pact to manage tensions in the waters where different parties have separate claims.
ASEAN and China completed the first reading of the proposed code between 2018 and 2019. It had been planned that the code would be mapped out by 2021, but the pandemic hindered negotiations among parties. - with a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News