Locsin says 'friends, enemies' to be 'totally comfortable' with S. China Sea Code of Conduct

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 17 2020 08:41 PM

The Hughes Reef in the South China Sea, as developed by China. Construction on Hughes Reef began in summer 2014. What was once a 380-square-meter concrete platform on stilts has been expanded to a 75,000-square-meter island through dredging and reclamation activity. Photo Credit: CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe (File)

MANILA - Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said Thursday the world will be “totally comfortable” with the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea being negotiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China.

“China has my word on that and it will be a COC with which the rest of the world will be totally comfortable, friends and enemies alike,” Locsin said in a tweet.

Locsin was reacting to a statement by the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines warning against “interference” by a “certain country outside the region” in the maritime disputes.

The Philippines, three of its fellow ASEAN members (Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam), Taiwan and China have competing claims in the South China Sea.

Beijing, whose sweeping claims over almost the entire sea has been invalidated in 2016 by an International arbitration court in The Hague, has been criticized for its aggressive behavior in the disputed waters. It reclaimed some features there and fortified those with military installations.

The United States, with which the Philippines has a Mutual Defense Treaty, has repeatedly slammed China's activities in the South China Sea.

China, for its part, accuses the United States of sowing discord in the South China Sea.

Without particularly referring to the United States in its latest statement, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said it is “crucial” to resist such interference.

China claims it is “sincere in its attitude and firm in resolve” on the COC consultations, recalling the proposal of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to conclude the COC consultations within three years by 2021, and then agreed to by ASEAN leaders.

The first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text (SDNT) has been completed last year, and the second reading immediately commenced after.

While the COVID-19 pandemic this year slowed down the process, the working group on the COC met through an online video conference on Sept. 3.

“At the same time, we should also recognize that there are still some challenges in the consultations of COC. Apart from the difficulties caused by the pandemic, certain country outside the region is bent on interfering in the disputes of the South China Sea and the COC consultations to serve its own geopolitical agenda," the Chinese embassy said.

"How to resist the interference is crucial for pushing forward the future consultations of COC.”

“China appreciates the Philippines’ commitment to push forward negotiations towards an effective and substantive COC in the South China Sea. We firmly believe that with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the COC would be able to be finalized at the earliest, contributing to the peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it added.

A draft of the COC negotiating text in 2018 showed that while China wants military exercises and energy exploration with Southeast Asian nations in the disputed waters, it insists on outside countries being excluded.

In the draft text, Beijing suggests that China and the 10 ASEAN states should carry out joint military exercises regularly. However, the drills should not involve countries outside the region "unless the parties concerned are notified beforehand and express no objection."

The suggestion to exclude outside countries "is obviously targeted at the US which has been dominating the waters of the Western Pacific and the South China Sea in particular," Hoang Thi Ha of the ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told the Agence France-Presse.

The Philippines is the Coordinator of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations until 2021, and co-chair of the COC consultations.

The COC is aimed at managing tensions in the South China Sea, as China and ASEAN's 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties has been regarded as just a looser set of guidelines.

- with reports from the Agence France-Presse