ASEAN, China to meet on code of conduct

Posted on April 13, 2013

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, BRUNEI -- Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will hold a special meeting to hasten progress on a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea, Indonesia’s foreign minister said yesterday.

The meeting was proposed by China and all countries within the ASEAN have agreed to participate, Marty Natalegawa told reporters at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Brunei.

The agreement is potentially significant as China has insisted on handling territorial disputes bilaterally with individual countries, while ASEAN wants to speak as a group, a disconnect blamed for hindering progress on a code.

Although no date has been set, Mr. Natalegawa said the planned meeting underscored the importance of making “progress on the code of conduct and to maintain a positive atmosphere in the South China Sea.”

“About where and when and how, I think that’s something that needs to be worked out,” he added, of the meeting’s details.

Simmering tensions over competing claims to the sea, which is rich in oil and gas deposits, have reached boiling point in the past two years, with the Philippines and Vietnam accusing China of increasingly aggressive actions.

China claims nearly all of the sea, an important waterway for world trade, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the area.

Brunei, the tiny, oil-rich sultanate which chairs the 10-nation ASEAN bloc this year, has said it is keen to conclude a code of conduct under its watch.

China and ASEAN signed a broad declaration in 2002 pledging the parties would handle disputes peacefully and not take actions that threaten peace and stability, but efforts toward a legally binding code of conduct have floundered.

At the foreign ministers’ meeting, ASEAN renewed calls for restraint “in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes,” a statement by Brunei’s government said.

But Mr. Natalegawa said ASEAN’s own self-restraint is tested by “unilateral action to try to change [the] situation” in the body of water, referring to China, and adding, “Enough is enough.”

The meeting in Brunei was convened to prepare for an April 24-25 summit of ASEAN countries in which the sea issue is expected to figure prominently.

The sea dispute led to unprecedented infighting at an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh last July, which ended for the first time in the bloc’s 45-year history without a joint communique.

As chair at the time, Cambodia -- a close China ally -- was accused of resisting efforts by the Philippines and Vietnam to take a more aggressive position against the Chinese. -- AFP

Manila hopeful under new chair

THE PHILIPPINES is hoping that a binding code of conduct governing activities in the disputed South China Sea will be approved by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) under Brunei’s chairmanship.

“We are hoping that under Brunei’s chairmanship a legally binding CoC (Code of Conduct) in the South China Sea is crafted between ASEAN and China,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Raul S. Hernandez said in a text message yesterday.

The expectation comes amid a statement from Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Brunei yesterday that the Department of Foreign Affairs will “continue to work with ASEAN and China in crafting the CoC and in implementing our commitments under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.”

The CoC aims to establish ground rules on activities in the oil- and gas-rich South China Sea, a portion of which has been called by Manila as West Philippine Sea referring to its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. -- DEDS