MANILA, Philippines -- Will the time be ripe for the creation of a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) at the 22nd ASEAN Summit?
President Benigno Aquino III will once again urge ASEAN countries to draft a COC that will be used to implement the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea when he attends the 22nd ASEAN Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei on April 24 to April 25, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.
The ball will be in China's court. Hernandez said the ASEAN has already agreed on elements to be included in the COC, details of which will be presented to China in the upcoming Summit.
"What we have at present is that the ASEAN, from the SOM (Senior Officials Meeting) side up to the Ministers’ side, were able to come up with and agreed upon the elements of the Code of Conduct that would be shown and discussed with the Chinese," he said.
"But, as you all know, the Chinese side has said that they will only discuss this with ASEAN when the time is ripe. And we are hoping that the time is ripe is now for such discussion because this actually would be very good and this would be good for the region, and this will put peace and stability and freedom of navigation in the area that we are talking about," he added.
China has been hesitant to adopt a Code of Conduct, insisting that the South China Sea row is a bilateral issue.
During the recent state visit of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, to the Philippines, the South China Sea dispute also figured in the discussions during his meeting with Aquino. Brunei is the current chairman of the ASEAN.
"This is one of the priorities also of the chairmanship of Brunei, as far as the ASEAN is concerned, and we are happy that the chairman is very supportive in discussing maritime security and cooperation in the South China Sea," Hernandez said.
"And, hopefully, with the leadership of Brunei, we will be able to push this and come up with a crafted formulation of the COC which would be agreed by China. But it looks like that ASEAN is very, very gung-ho and also is pushing for the crafting of the legally binding Code of Conduct as soon as possible," he added.
The Philippines has elevated its territorial dispute with China to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Asked on the possibility that China might use the creation of the COC as a leverage against the case, Hernandez said that the Philippines maintains that both mechanisms to resolve the dispute should be pursued.
"We will go on with the arbitral proceedings and we hope that this will proceed as expected. But, at the same time, we will continue on pushing for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," he said.
Since April 2012, the Philippines has been locked in a standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Out of the 10 member countries of the ASEAN, 4 countries are fighting for overlapping claims on the territory - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, another issue involving territorial claims and the Philippines will not be part of the agenda. Hernandez said Sabah is not expected to be part of the discussions because it is a "bilateral issue."
Aquino also has no scheduled bilateral meetings with other countries during the two-day summit.
“I think it’s more because of the short period of this summit. People are busy and this is actually a very short summit and not like the one that we had last November,’’ Hernandez said. - Rappler.com