ASEAN, China aim to start negotiations on sea code

MANILA, Philippines – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will meet on Monday, November 13, expecting to start negotiations on the long-delayed Code of Conduct (COC) in the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will chair this meeting, to be attended by other ASEAN leaders and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. This meeting takes place during the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits hosted by the Philippines.

"Leaders of ASEAN and China will discuss the current state and future direction of ASEAN-China Dialogue Partnership," the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

"They are also expected to announce the start of the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, following the adoption of the Framework of the COC by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and China last August 2017 in Manila," the DFA added.

The COC is a document to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea, building on the non-legally binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.

'Gentleman's agreement'?

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. (READ: Justice Carpio hits Duterte policy after Hague ruling)

The Duterte administration, however, is proud of having led ASEAN in crafting a framework COC during the Philippine chairmanship.

Drawing at least 20 world leaders, the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits "is the largest gathering of world leaders that the Philippines will be hosting during this chairmanship year," DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. 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.

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