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South China Sea code of conduct on track

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TALKS ON the code of conduct in the South China Sea are “proceeding smoothly and effectively,” Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said on Tuesday, as the Philippines and China celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations.

“With joint efforts of China and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) countries including the Philippines, the consultation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is proceeding smoothly and effectively,” he said in a statement.

Efforts include the establishment of a bilateral consultation mechanism, which serves as a venue for the Philippines and China to discuss maritime cooperation, he added.

China and ASEAN economies had agreed to a three-year timeline, or until 2022, to complete the code meant to ease tensions in maritime disputes.

A maritime expert earlier said the coronavirus pandemic has delayed consultations on the code.

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“It’s delayed by half a year now — no negotiations, no meetings on the code of conduct took place, even virtually,” Nguyen Hung Son, director-general and head of the Institute for the South China Sea, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam said in a May 15 online forum. “This further pushed whatever deadline that ASEAN and China have indicated in the negotiation process.”

The Philippines and China established diplomatic relations on June 9, 1975. The Southeast Asian nation also celebrates the Filipino-Chinese friendship day on the same day yearly, based on a law that took effect in 2002.

Mr. Huang said the partnership has boosted trade between the two countries and is helping to develop Philippine infrastructure.

Bilateral trade volume increased more than 800 times from about $72 million in 1975 to $60.95 billion last year, he said. He added that last year, China signed $6.24 billion in contractual projects with the Philippines.

The Chinese government said that aside from helping the Philippines fight the coronavirus pandemic, it remained committed to help the Philippine boost infrastructure projects under President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program.

Mr. Duterte has sought closer trade and investment ties with China since he became president in 2016, unlike his predecessor Benigno S.C. Aquino III, whose government sued China before an international court in a sea dispute and won. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

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