ASEAN, China: We can't take 'calmer' seas 'for granted'

MANILA, Philippines –  The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China vowed not to take the "calmer" situation in the South China Sea (SCS) for granted, said a draft statement set to be released Monday, November 13.

"While the situation is calmer now, we cannot take the current progress for granted," said the draft ASEAN Common Statement on ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations for the 20th ASEAN-China Summit on Monday.

The two parties said it "is important that we cooperate to maintain peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and overflight above the SCS, in accordance with international law," including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"It is in our collective interest to avoid miscalculations that could lead to escalation of tensions," the draft statement said.

"We therefore reiterate our commitment to fully and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS (DOC) in its entirety," it added. 

The statement is set to be released as part of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits hosted by the Philippines.

Starting negotiations

In the draft statement, ASEAN member states also "agreed to officially commence negotiations with China" on the long-delayed Code of Conduct (COC) in the disputed waters. 

The COC is a document to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea, building on the non-legally binding DOC.

Before the Duterte administration, the COC was expected to be a legally binding document, but now the Philippines is wary of having a "legally binding" COC.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said he prefers the COC to be a non-legally binding "gentleman's agreement." It is then unclear how different this will be from the similarly non-legally binding DOC.

The Philippines and China, as well as other claimant countries, remain embroiled in a decades-long dispute over the South China Sea. The Philippines claims parts of the contested waters as the West Philippine Sea. 

In July 2016, Manila won a historic case against Beijing over the South China Sea, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to downplay this legal victory for the sake of better ties with China. – Rappler.com

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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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