ASEAN ministers endorse framework code in South China Sea

Paterno Esmaquel II
ASEAN ministers endorse framework code in South China Sea
(3rd UPDATE) The Philippines says it prefers a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, but the caveat is 'we have to have an effective Code of Conduct'

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Saturday, August 5, endorsed the framework Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

“Yes, the ministers endorsed the framework of the Code of Conduct for adoption in the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting on August 6,” Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Robespierre Bolivar confirmed in a press briefing on Saturday.

This comes as Manila hosts the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, where regional officials discuss issues such as the South China Sea dispute and the North Korea tensions.

Bolivar stressed that the Philippines, which chairs ASEAN, prefers a legally binding COC, as earlier stated by Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

“But of course the caveat there is, we have to have an effective Code of Conduct. We have to have a code of conduct that all countries observe and adhere to,” Bolivar said. 

Cayetano earlier said he is wary of having a “legally binding” COC, as he prefers it first to be a non-legally binding “gentleman’s agreement.” 

Vietnam on Friday night, August 4, sought to insert tough language against China in the ASEAN statement that was scheduled to be released after the Southeast Asian ministers wrapped up their own talks on Saturday.

According to a copy of a draft obtained by Agence France-Presse, Vietnam lobbied for ASEAN to express serious concern over “construction” in the sea, in reference to China’s ramped up building of artificial islands in the disputed waters in recent years.

Vietnam also wanted ASEAN to insist in the statement that a planned code of conduct for the sea with China be “legally binding,” which Beijing opposes.

The lobbying occurred when the ASEAN foreign ministers held unscheduled and informal talks late on Friday night.

“The discussions were really hard. Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea. Cambodia and Philippines are not keen to reflect that,” one diplomat involved in the talks told Agence France-Presse.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, including waters approaching the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.