Singapore

Asean, China adopt code of conduct framework for South China Sea

Foreign ministers from South-east Asia and China have adopted the framework of a code of conduct (COC) to manage disputes in the South China Sea, paving the way for negotiations on an actual code to take place by year's end.

This came as Asean foreign ministers issued their joint communique that called for non-militarisation in the South China Sea and noting concerns by some ministers on the land reclamations in the area.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said yesterday that "the finalised framework of the COC on the South China Sea brings stability to the issue, demonstrating a positive momentum. This shows our common wish to protect the peace and stability in the South China Sea".

With the situation "stable and (with) no interference from external parties", negotiations could begin when leaders of Asean and China meet in the Philippines in November, Mr Wang added, in reference to the Asean Summit.

By the end of the month, he said, "various parties will together explore the thinking, principles and plan behind the actual negotiations of the COC, so as to make necessary preparations to reach a consensus between Asean and China".

The framework has not been made public, but a leaked two-page blueprint says it aims to promote "mutual trust, cooperation and confidence, prevent incidents, manage incidents should they occur and create a favourable environment for the peaceful resolution of disputes".

It also emphasises that the COC "is not an instrument to settle territorial disputes or maritime delimitation issues".

Speaking to reporters, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said of the framework: "This is an important document because it represents, in a sense, consensus and more important than that, a commitment on behalf of all the 10 Asean states and China to make progress on this long overdue issue.

"...It doesn't mean all differences have gone away but by focusing on the overall dynamics of the relationship, we can achieve positive progress, confidence and move forward."

Finalising the COC has acquired urgency following a series of confrontations between China and some of its smaller South-east Asian neighbours with competing claims to the South China Sea.

China lays claim to nearly all of the resource-rich waterway, which is also claimed in part by four Asean members - Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

The broad framework, which leaves wide scope for disagreement, has critics raising doubts about how effective the COC will be. It does not outline as an initial objective the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism.

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES TODAY

aseanSouth China SeaChina