BANGKOK, Thailand -- Southeast Asian leaders have committed to
fast-track the completion of an effective code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea, in the wake of the ramming of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel in Recto (Reed) Bank.
They made the commitment in the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership for Sustainability, which was adopted by member states during the ASEAN Summit plenary Saturday.
The document states that leaders agreed to “work actively towards the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to push for the completion of SCS code of conduct in the ASEAN Summit, after he said he would “talk lengthily” about China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
The Philippines is the coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021, where it leads negotiations on drafting a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is one of the world's busiest waterways, and a potential flashpoint in the region as several ASEAN members -- the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia -- as well as China and Taiwan have conflicting territorial claims.
ASEAN member-states also committed to “exercise self-restraint” in the conduct of activities in the disputed waters and to “avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.”
They agreed to “pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, while enhancing mutual trust and confidence.”
The ASEAN also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.
Formed more than 50 years ago, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has historically struggled with challenges facing the region because it works only by consensus and is reluctant to become involved in any matter regarded as internal to a member state.-- with a report from Reuters