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Asean takes calm tack on South China Sea

Posted by pakin On November - 14 - 2017

Parties agree to work towards new code of conduct governing disputes.

ASEAN PUSHED for early negotiations on the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea during the 31st Asean Summit and 20th Asean-China Summit yesterday.

In a continued effort since the CoC framework was adopted during the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in August, both sides agreed to kick off negotiations by early next year, a source said.

The CoC, while not itself an instrument to manage territorial disputes, takes the sides a step closer to realising a legally binding tool regarding territories contested by China and four Asean countries.

Host country Philippines, one of the contestants, had appeared to preserve its original stance on the long-contested sea, before releasing it in a document seen by The Nation.

Two paragraphs mentioning the South China Sea were softer than those in earlier joint communiques released after the AMM.

The Philippines, which chairs Asean this year, has taken a soft stance over territorial disputes with China since the current administration under President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.

Members of Asean, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have been at loggerheads with China over territorial disputes in the contentious sea for decades. The issue always raises temperatures at Asean meetings, but received a relatively calm reception this year as conflicting parties sought to compromise.

Vietnam and China agreed yesterday to back away from conflicts in the South China Sea, in a move aimed at easing tensions over Beijing’s claims to most of the waterway, according to an AFP report from Hanoi.

Hanoi and Beijing agreed to maintain peace in the seas, the countries said in a joint statement during a state visit to Hanoi by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

They agreed to “well manage disputes at sea, make no moves that may complicate or expand disputes, [and] maintain peace and stability on the East Sea”, the Vietnamese version of the statement said, using Hanoi’s term for the sea.

During a meeting at the Asean-China summit in Manila, leaders of both sides said they had agreed to officially commence negotiations with China on the CoC. “[We] trust that we will continue this positive momentum and work towards a substantive and effective CoC,” a statement said.

They also called the situation “calmer”, a rare official note on the conflicting sea, adding that the detente “cannot [be taken] for granted and needs further cooperation”.

Under Duterte, the Philippines has shifted its approach from collectively calling on Asean to cope with China to a more “friendly” approach to negotiations.

That stance was reiterated yesterday by Philippine presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who also recalled Duterte’s bilateral meeting with President Xi during the Apec Summit last week in Vietnam.

“[Duterte] opted for friendly relations with China and also reinstates warmer [relations] with Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia,” Roque said, referring to all countries contesting the “West Philippine Sea”, as the Philippines refers to the body.

“It is not in the interest of either China or the Philippines to resort to military forces. China is also pursuing with bilateral [talks] with every claimant.”

“It is a hope of all Asean countries that the CoC will be concluded as soon as possible,” he added

 

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