ASEAN to adopt legally binding South China Sea code of conduct


MANILA — Foreign ministers from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to adopt a legally binding code of conduct (COC) in the disputed waters of West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, which they hoped to begin its negotiations by year-end.

“…There was, in fact, an agreement among the ASEAN foreign ministers that the preference is for a legally binding code of conduct,” said Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) acting Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar in a press briefing.

Bolivar reiterated that the Philippines itself opted for legally binding COC.

“But more than that, the code of conduct has to be effective –meaning, adhered to and observed by all the concerned parties,” he added.

The DFA official issued this statement in response to calls from Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Japan Foreign Minister Taro Kono and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during the seventh ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD).

The three countries urged ASEAN member states and China to ensure that “the COC be finalized in a timely manner, and that it be legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law.”

The Ministers voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions in the area.

In this regard, they encouraged South China Sea claimants to “refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarization of disputed features, and undertaking unilateral actions that cause a permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation.”

The Ministers also called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal’s 2016 Award in the Philippines-China arbitration, “as it is final and legally binding on both parties.”

They also noted the significance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) dispute settlement regime and the need to fully and effectively implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

“So I don’t see any disagreement between the Philippine position and what was stated here in the US, Japan, and Australia,” added Bolivar.

He also cited a joint communiqué of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in which ASEAN foreign ministers also called for non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of land reclamations and activities in the disputed South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.

ASEAN members and China on Sunday approved the framework for a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, which would serve as the basis for the negotiation of the actual code. (PNA)

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