MANILA – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have committed to finish the framework for a binding code of conduct on the South China Sea this year, when the Philippines sits as chair of the 10-nation regional bloc, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.
Acting DFA Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said there has been an increase in confidence between ASEAN and China regarding the establishment of the code of conduct.
A binding code of conduct is envisioned to govern the behavior of claimants to the South China Sea, a vital waterway where China has been fortifying its claim by building artificial islands.
Currently, the non-binding Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea is in place, and has been unable to stop incursions, largely China's militarization and reclamation activities.
The Philippines, during the previous administration, had pushed for a binding code amid China’s island building activities in the South China Sea.
“We are more hopeful now than we were maybe a year or two years ago that we would have significant progress and there’s a commitment from ASEAN and China to complete the framework, in fact, by middle of this year,” Bolivar said in a news briefing in Malacanang.
According to Bolivar, there have been two meetings of the joint working group to discuss the framework, one held in Bali, Indonesia and another in Siem Reap, Cambodia. More meetings are expected to take place.
“So, we hope that ASEAN and China will make more significant progress,” Bolivar said.
“There has been increasing level of trust and confidence among the parties. And we are very hopeful that we will complete the framework [on the code of conduct] by 2017.”
President Rodrigo Duterte has been urged to take advantage of the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship this year to push for an accord on a binding code of conduct, and assert the Philippines' arbitration victory against China over conflicting maritime claims in the area.
The President, however, has chosen to downplay the Philippines' arbitration victory in exchange for a more vibrant economic relationship with wealthy Beijing.
“The Philippine position is well known and the President has stated on numerous occasions that the primary consideration for his foreign engagements is the national interest,” Bolivar said.
“The Philippine position on the South China Sea, the West Philippine Sea issue is already very well known.”
President Duterte's leadership has ushered in a turnaround in long-tense relations between the Philippines and China. In May, the two parties are set to begin long-stalled bilateral talks on the dispute.
Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, China, Philippines, South China Sea, territorial disputes