MANILA - Discussions on the framework of the code of conduct in the South China Sea should include the international arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines and rejected China’s claims over almost all of the disputed waters, an analyst said Wednesday.
Victor Andres Manhit of research consultancy firm Stratbase said the landmark ruling is an “integral” factor in discussing the code of conduct as it is an interpretation of international laws.
The framework, drawn up by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in May, is expected to be tackled by the bloc and China's ministers in the upcoming ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Manila.
“ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as a region, it’s built around a concept of promoting the rule of law, and they cannot promote the rule of law without considering how the law, in this case the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ), was interpreted by the courts and arbitrated by the courts in their decision,” he said in an interview on ANC’s Early Edition.
Manhit added that given the Philippines’ chairmanship of the regional bloc this year, the government is in a “better position” to engage China on issues surrounding the disputed waters.
“It's a matter for the Philippine government to emphasize that this kind of victory from an international law perspective is the peaceful and diplomatic approach and now engage China [on the South China Sea],” he said.
“I’m hoping that our leadership and the support of the majority, if not all of our member states in ASEAN, should be the driver to ensure that there is a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea,” he added.
In a landmark ruling in July 2016, a United Nations tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim on almost all of the South China Sea.
Beijing has continued to ignore the ruling, asserting "indisputable sovereignty" over the waters and stepping up island-building and militarization activities instead.
This week, 27 foreign ministers from ASEAN and its dialogue partners Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, India, China, Russia, and the United States will gather in Manila from Friday until Tuesday for meetings on key issues such as terrorism, maritime security and human rights.
Manhit expressed doubts that Manila could fully assert the ruling and use its chairmanship to its advantage but said he remains optimistic.
“I’m not that confident but I’m a perennial optimist that, hopefully, under the leadership of the Philippines, we can see some light to a code of conduct that has been part of the discussion within the ASEAN region and China for the past 15 years,” he said.