South China Sea Code of Conduct seen part of Asean Summit talks

South China Sea
In this March 30, 2014, file photo, the dilapidated Philippine Navy ship LT 57 Sierra Madre is in the shallow waters of Second Thomas Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

PRESIDENT Duterte is expected to once again raise the need for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea in the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit and Related Summits in Thailand this week.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Junever M. Mahilum-West told Palace reporters on Monday that it is “unavoidable” the COC will be discussed by the world leaders in one of the meetings during the Asean Summit.

However, Mahilum-West said they don’t expect this matter to be discussed extensively.

“I wouldn’t want to preempt what the President would say. But in terms of looking at the conditions, the situation on the ground or at sea in the South China Sea, for example, I think the President would be expected to say something about it,” she said.

Mahilum-West also said the issue on the COC will be discussed in all three pillars of cooperation: political security, economic and sociocultural.

“So it will be discussed there and then I think we could expect the countries to give their positions,” she said. “But as to intensive negotiations, we don’t expect that will happen in this meeting—in these kinds of meetings.”

COC to trump arbitral ruling?

Meanwhile, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Monday that the Philippines should exercise “utmost vigilance” in ensuring that the COC is not utilized by Beijing to undermine the country’s legal victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Del Rosario made the statement as he questioned China’s apparent change on its stand on forging the COC.

“It would appear throughout that China was adopting a delaying strategy in moving the COC forward in order to give itself time to complete its unlawful expansion and militarization strategy in the South China Sea.

“Now that China has practically completed its overall strategy, Beijing appears to want to forge ahead with the COC.  What could it mean?” he asked aloud in his opening remarks at a forum sponsored by the Stratbase ADR Institute.

“To us, it means that we will need to exercise utmost vigilance in ensuring that the COC is not utilized by Beijing for the purpose of undermining the Award in The South China Sea Arbitration, which is now an integral part of international law and with which China is obligated to comply as a State Party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [Unclos],” he added.

Nonetheless, he said China would continue to be aggressive without the binding COC, adding that the Hague Ruling on the Philippines’s case in the South China Sea should be an integral part of the COC.

“Absent a binding code of conduct, continued Chinese aggression and military activities will persistently push the existing entitlements under international law of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam into more turbulent waters,” he said.

Consult Vietnam

Further, del Rosario said it would be a “constructive move” to consult Vietnam so as to give the country an opportunity to share and appreciate each other’s views which could lead to an agreed plan of action that would be beneficial to everyone.

“If our memory serves us correctly, Vietnam had specific positions on banning any new  air  defense  identification  zone [Adiz], on clarifying maritime entitlements in accordance with international law, on the blocking of China’s proposal to ban military drills in the South China Sea with outside powers unless all signatories agree, and on the blocking of Beijing’s proposal to exclude foreign oil firms by limiting joint development deals to China and Southeast Asia,” he said. “The aforementioned are all areas of major importance which should be fully supported not only by the Philippines but by Asean as a whole.”

Asean Summit

Along with other world leaders, the President is set to participate in the 35th Asean Summit and Related Summits from November 2 to 4 in Nonthaburi, Thailand.

He is also set to have bilateral meetings with leaders from other countries, but these were not disclosed yet by the Department of Foreign Affairs as these are still being finalized.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Summit will be held on November 4.

Negotiators of the RCEP are ready to declare the conclusion of talks during the Summit—with 80 percent of the trade deal closed.

RCEP is seen to become of the world’s largest trade deals, as it is negotiated by member-states of the Asean,  Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Image credits: AP/Bullit Marquez, File


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