'Unavoidable' for ASEAN to discuss sea code in Thailand summit: DFA

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 28 2019 11:12 AM

ASEAN leaders pose on stage during the opening ceremony of the 34th ASEAN Summit at the Athenee Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand June 23, 2019. Seen here are Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, chairman of 34th ASEAN Summit, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters/file

MANILA- Discussing the South China Sea code of conduct is "unavoidable" for Southeast Asian leaders as several countries in the region have conflicting claims over the resource-rich waterway, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday.

The much-awaited agreement to manage tensions in the disputed waters will be part of the talks in next week's ASEAN Summit in Thailand, which will be joined by President Rodrigo Duterte.

"I think it will be featured in the discussions. It's unavoidable," DFA Assistant Secretary Junever Mahilum-West said in a press briefing.

The regional bloc will also have a meeting with China, which claims nearly all of the South China Sea, during next week's summit.

A potential flashpoint in Southeast Asia, the South China Sea is one of the world's busiest waterways with several ASEAN members -- the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia -- as well as China and Taiwan, claiming parts of it.

Malacañang in August revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Duterte that Beijing wants a binding code of conduct crafted before the Philippine leader steps down in 2022.

The sea code was among the maritime issues raised by President Duterte when he flew to China in August after he expressed suspicion that Beijing may be delaying talks on the matter.

With the Philippines as coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership until 2021, Mahilum-West said Duterte is "expected to say something" about the sea code in next week's summit.

Earlier this year, ASEAN member-states committed to “exercise self-restraint” in the conduct of activities in the disputed waters and to “avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.”

The Philippines is also working to secure bilateral meetings with other state leaders who are joining next week's summit but nothing has been finalized yet, Mahilum-West said.