MANILA — A code of conduct in the South China Sea is unlikely to be concluded anytime soon, a security expert said Tuesday.
According to Rommel Banlaoi, president of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies, several unresolved issues are "slowing down" the negotiations over the COC.
"Those 5 major issues have not been resolved yet and those issues are in fact, slowing down the process of negotiations. Until we resolved those issues, I think we need to be more patient to conclude the SCS," he told ANC's "Headstart".
First, there is the undefined legal status of the COC.
"Is it binding or non-binding?" said Banlaoi, also chairman of Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
Second is the scope of activities that will be covered by the agreement.
Banlaoi noted China rejects all types of military activities in the disputed waterways due to fear it would facilitate surveillance and reconnaissance, which he said are inimical to Beijing's interest.
The code's undefined geographic scope of the South China Sea is a third factor.
Another is the role of extra-regional powers who are not party to the COC, he said.
The last impediment is the dispute settlement mechanism should parties violate the code, Banlaoi added.
"We have to understand that the negotiation on the code of conduct on the South China Sea doesn't attempt to resolve territorial disputes," he said.
"It only encourages parties to behave in accordance with existing international laws especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," he continued.
Following his visit to Cambodia for the ASEAN Summit, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said no progress had been made on the conclusion of the COC.
Marcos stressed urgency for the implementation of such agreement.
"There’s been some progress in the past year but we really need to have the actual code of conduct, already finalized and already in place as soon as possible," he said on Sunday.
China claim sovereignty over almost the entire sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims to parts of it.
Trillions of dollars worth of ship-borne trade passes through the waterway annually and naval vessels from the United States and Western allies sail through it regularly.
Of all the claimants, China has in recent years forced its stance most aggressively.
Hundreds of Chinese coast guard and maritime militia vessels prowl the waters, swarming reefs, harassing and attacking fishing and other boats, and interfering in oil and gas exploration, and scientific research.
China often invokes the so-called 9-dash line, a vague delineation based on maps from the 1940s, to justify its claims over the South China Sea.
The Philippines brought a case before an international court disputing China's stance. The tribunal ruled in 2016 that Beijing's claims have no legal basis.
China has since ignored the ruling. — With a report from Agence France-Presse