China, ASEAN set sea dispute meeting
Manila, Philippines — Officials from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states are scheduled to meet in the Thai city of Pattaya on April 21 to accelerate the process of formulating a Code of Conduct (CoC) in the disputed South China Sea.
The forthcoming meeting to be hosted by Thailand comes amid critical developments in the region, including China’s the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the disputed East China Sea, the implementation of Hainan Island’s new fishing regulations, and the rising tension in the South China Sea involving major claimants, including the Philippines’ decision to file a case against China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea before a United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal.
It was on September of the previous year that China and the ASEAN launched the official consultation on a CoC during the 6th China-ASEAN senior officials’ meeting and the 9th joint working group meeting on Implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DoC) of Parties in the South China Sea held in Suzhou, China.
The meeting was considered as a turning point as China expressed its willingness to work with the ASEAN for comprehensive and effective implementation of the DoC and steadily push forward consultations on a CoC.
During the discussions, Chinese and ASEAN senior officials agreed on the modality of moving forward and continue official consultations on the CoC on a regular basis, and make regular reports to Foreign Ministers.
They also tasked a Joint Working Group (JWG) to hold in-depth discussions on all aspects of the CoC, including consideration of expert services that would support the work of official consultations.
Last March, officials at the working level met in Singapore to review the progress and prepare recommendations for the Pattaya meeting.
During both meetings, the Philippines, one of the South China Sea claimants along with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, expressed its position that the CoC should be legally-binding and be developed through a deliberate process of intergovernmental negotiations.
The Philippines also called for respect for principles of the DoC, particularly the non-use of force or coercion.
For the Pattaya meeting, ASEAN and China are expected to hold in-depth discussion on at least six key common elements that could be incorporated in what could be the final CoC draft.
These include ways to strengthen political trust to ensure productive discussion, commitments to the principles laid down in the United Nations Charter, UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS), Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and other relevant documents.