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South China Sea Code of Conduct still ‘very far’ from completion

PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. during the 25th ASEAN-China Summit. — OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

AN AGREEMENT between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea remains far from being finalized, a Philippine diplomat said on Wednesday, despite the second reading of the draft nearing conclusion.

“Honestly, I think we are still very far from concluding this document,” Foreign Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary and Executive Director for ASEAN Affairs Noel M. Novicio told a press conference.

“ASEAN member states and China are negotiating this very seriously, very delicately. I think we are at least about to conclude the second reading of this significant document,” he added.

Mr. Novicio explained that a second reading meant the second round of negotiations, with the parties going line by line on the provisions of the document.

“We have finalized the preambular part of this document, but I’d like to inform you that there is an unwritten agreement among ASEAN member states and China that nothing is finalized until everything is finalized,” he said.

“The second reading means that we have completed the second round of the whole text, but it doesn’t mean that we have agreed on the text,” he added.

The 11 countries did not set a deadline for completing the proposed code of conduct, which is expected to serve as a framework for rules and standards for maritime peace and stability.

“We are confident that, of course, the negotiations will proceed next year, but I’d like to emphasize that it is a very delicate undertaking,” Mr. Novicio said. “We’re taking it very seriously. We are consulting with our experts.”

Consultations for the adoption of the South China Sea Code of Conduct began in 2013. It took about six years before the first round of negotiations reached its end and kicked off second reading negotiations.

“That document… when it is concluded, when it is finalized, I think it will be one of the most significant contributions of ASEAN in the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Mr. Novicio said.

The diplomat said the long process could be attributed to the need to consider the position of several nations in terms of interpretation and application.

“There are 11 countries negotiating a very important document, so you have to consider all the positions of the 11 countries. Of course, there are significant positions, core national interests being put on the table,” he said.

“For the Philippines, we look at a CoC (code of conduct) that should be based on international law… We hope that we will have a very good document that will be in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” he said.

The South China Sea is a major global shipping route. Several countries have overlapping territorial claims, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and China.

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