ASEAN chief: Legally-binding East Sea Code of Conduct needed

Credit Twitter

Credit Twitter

In an address at the ASEAN-China summit, Li said his country was committed to strengthen ties with the 10-member grouping amid mounting concerns by several countries of the bloc over growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

"Important that we cooperate to maintain peace, stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the SCS (South China Sea), in accordance with worldwide law", it said.

China is now in favor of crafting a binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte said at the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings hosted by Manila. "China is resolute in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea".

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who came to power a year ago, set aside a maritime dispute in exchange for billions of dollars worth of economic deals with China.

This is all well and good since crafting a code of conduct concerning the disputed waters can be considered the biggest milestone for ASEAN and China in the past 15 years. Taiwan and four ASEAN nations - Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei - have competing claims.

"We have to be friends, the other hotheads would like us to confront China and the rest of the world on so many issues", Duterte said at a business conference.

A reference to a landmark ruling favoring the Philippines' claims in the South China Sea may be implied, in the ASEAN Chairman's statement, but it still falls short of any significant action in resolving the dispute, an analyst said Thursday. "It can ill-afford a violent confrontation".

In the same statement, the group also denounced the emergence of terrorism and violent extremism.

"In this regard, we further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, emphasized the importance of non-militarization, and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC (Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea", he added.

"Piracy and armed robbery in the seas put a dent on our growth and disrupt the stability of both regional and global commerce".

Asean member-states and China took a three-step process for the completion of an actual code of conduct - adoption of the framework, discussion of modalities for the negotiation of code of conduct, and announcement of start of negotiation for actual, legally-binding document.

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