LEADERS at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits last week in Cambodia. — OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

LEADERS at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits last week made no progress on a proposed code of conduct in the South China Sea, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said at the weekend.

“Nothing new actually has happened in terms of the code of conduct,” he told a news briefing after attending the summits in Cambodia, based on a transcript sent by the presidential palace. “We all just restated over and over again.”

Mr. Marcos again cited the need for the code of conduct to keep the peace in the disputed sea, which is subject to overlapping claims involving the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the global shipping route, which is also rich in fish and gas.

The Philippine leader sought an “immediate conclusion” of the code of conduct.

In 2002, ASEAN and China signed a nonbinding agreement where 11 countries agreed that a South China Sea code of conduct was needed.

“There’s been some progress in the past year but we really need to have the actual code of conduct already finalized and already in place as soon as possible,” Mr. Marcos said.

In his remarks at the related East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13, Mr. Marcos said there’s a need to maintain peace in the South China Sea.

“We must ensure that the South China Sea remains a sea of peace, a sea of security and stability and of prosperity,” he said. “With the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international law as our basis, the South China Sea will be a nexus of vibrant economic engagements and interactions, not an epicenter of armed conflict or geopolitical maneuverings.”

The Philippine leader had also sought an “immediate conclusion” of the code on conduct in his remarks at the related ASEAN-China Summit on Nov. 11.

“It shall be an example of how states manage their differences — through reason and through right,” Mr. Marcos told delegates on Friday. “I, therefore, welcome the progress on textual negotiations on the code of conduct this past year and hopefully an approved code of conduct in the very near future.” 

He also said the 1982 sea convention, which the Philippines has been a party to since 1984, is important.

In 2016, a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal favored the Philippines by voiding China’s claim to more than 80% of the sea based on a 1940s map. China has largely ignored the ruling.

The government of the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III started the lawsuit at the Hague in January 2013.

Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos said ASEAN leaders had agreed to enforce UNCLOS and uphold international law.

“Everybody, including the Chinese, says we follow UNCLOS and international law,” he told reporters. “At least, that position of ASEAN is clear.”

Leaders had also reached a consensus to abide by the One-China policy, which holds that Taiwan is part of China, Mr. Marcos said. Tensions between China and Taiwan must be resolved peacefully, he added.

“We believe that Taiwan is part of China but you must resolve those issues peacefully. That’s what ASEAN is asking for.”

The Philippine president was in Cambodia on Nov. 9 to 13 for the summits.

Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos said the Philippines was among ASEAN countries that called for an engagement between parties in Myanmar, including the military leadership and opposition forces, Mr. Marcos said.

“Some countries say just remove Myanmar from ASEAN or just don’t invite them at all,” he said at the same media briefing. “Others say we need to talk to the people, including those at the bottom. That’s our stand. I said we should talk to all of them.”

“All of us came down on different, slightly different positions along the entire spectrum of completely kicking out Myanmar from ASEAN and for engaging them fully,” he added. “Nobody wanted to engage the generals. Nobody wanted to engage the high-level officials.”

Mr. Marcos said different levels of engagement had been proposed.

The political unrest in Myanmar was the main concern of leaders during the ASEAN summits, he said. “The five-point consensus that Myanmar had agreed with ASEAN wasn’t being followed. So what do we do? And that was a little contentious.”

In a statement, ASEAN reaffirmed that Myanmar is an “integral part” of the regional group.

ASEAN said a five-point consensus it issued last year “shall remain our valid reference and should be implemented in its entirety.”

“We reaffirmed that the ASEAN Summit is the supreme decision-making body and will make the final decision on the implementation of the five-point consensus, including when consensus cannot be achieved, in line with the ASEAN charter,” it added. 

The consensus called for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar, dialogues among all involved parties, humanitarian assistance from ASEAN, and a visit to the country by a special envoy. 

“In the year since, Min Aung Hlaing has defied each point while overseeing a brutal nationwide crackdown aimed at suppressing the millions of people opposed to military rule,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement in April.

Myanmar had “nonpolitical representation” at the ASEAN Summits in Cambodia.