ASEAN, China to start talks on conduct in South China Sea

Posted on November 29, 2011

THE ASSOCIATION of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will start talks as early as January preparatory to drafting a binding document governing activities in the South China Sea, an official said yesterday.

“A meeting between ASEAN and China will be held by January to identify the main elements in crafting the Code of Conduct (COC),” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda F. Basilio said in a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

“The meeting is scheduled by the first week or second week of January,” she added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario earlier said that ASEAN members have agreed to draft a more binding document to guide activities in the contested area that will be presented to senior ministers in July 2012.

The Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have conflicting claims over the resource-rich Spratly Group of Islands.

The COC will serve as the implementing guideline of a declaration forged between ASEAN and China in 2002 on activities in the area, renamed by the government as West Philippine Sea.

Ms. Basilio said the Philippines will continue to call for a multilateral approach to settle the disputes, a move introduced at the recent ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Bali, Indonesia but was referred for further study.

“Despite China wanting bilateral approach, ASEAN claimant states want to push through with the multilateral approach,” she said.

China has rejected multilateral negotiations on the issue, preferring instead to talk individually with tiny claimants.

The situation has prompted the United State to reinforce its presence in Asia-Pacific through a series of meetings with treaty partners, including the Philippines, prior to attending the Bali forum.

ASEAN members Myanmar and Cambodia, however, have expressed disagreement with the multilateral approach reportedly due to the influence of China.

The Senate committee on foreign relations was also briefed on other issues raised in the ASEAN Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Honolulu, Hawaii, both held this month. -- A. S. O. Alegado