China to heed proposed sea code, binding or not – Wang Yi

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured the Philippines on Monday, October 29, that China will strictly follow a proposed code of conduct (COC) in the disputed South China Sea whether or not the document is legally binding. 

"Whether or not it is legally binding, any document we have signed, we will strictly abide by it and firmly implement it," Wang said.

Wang was responding to a question on whether China and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, have decided if the proposed COC will be legally binding.

Before President Rodrigo Duterte came in, the Philippines envisioned the COC to be a legally binding document to replace the non-binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. 

The Philippines' former foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in May 2017, however, that he is wary of a legally binding COC. He said he prefers the COC to first be a "gentleman's agreement" among claimant countries. 

Cayetano's successor, Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr, said he cannot give a "ready answer" on whether the COC should be legally binding.

To illustrate a point, Locsin cited the Global Compact on Migration, which the Philippines pushed for but the Europeans refused. "The best we could do is to say fine, it is not legally binding but it is the standard of conduct for how civilized nations treat migrants." 

"And perhaps we will not be able to arrive at a legally binding COC," Locsin said, "but it will be the standard of how people of ASEAN, governments of ASEAN, will behave toward each other – always with honor, never with aggression, but with always mutual progress in mind." –

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at