China reminded Southeast Asian nations of the importance of coming up with a framework to create a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a foreign relations official said Wednesday.
Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary Enrique Manalo said discussions for a code of conduct has been going on for years now, but a significant breakthrough recently was an "understanding" between China and the Southeast Asian nations, many of whom have contentions for territory in the South China Sea.
"It was China in fact who this year mentioned to us the importance of coming up with a framework. That’s also a significant development," he told reporters who were in Bangkok, Thailand for President Rodrigo Duterte's official visit.
He added, China will be hosting a meeting in May, and he hopes that by that time there is already a “significant progress” on the framework.
The code of conduct, he said, seeks to remind all countries that despite disputes, "we have to behave and deal with each other in a way that doesn’t lead to conflict and rather promotes cooperation."
Manalo said the contents of the code of conduct "are still under careful negotiations [of] experts," and it would be difficult to disclose limits.
"But all I can really say at this stage is that there will probably key elements in the code, for example, measures that would promote cooperation, measures that would prevent misunderstandings in the sea, measures that would not lead to escalating tensions," he said.
"I think it’s really at this stage, maybe a bit early to go into specific details kasi ine-negotiate pa yan, and these are negotiations involving 11 countries," he added.
China, an economic giant in Asia, reportedly plans to build an “environmental monitoring” station in Scarborough Shoal in the disputed area, a move that the Philippines reportedly will strongly protest.