ASEAN Seeks New Code of Conduct with China

ASEAN will hold an important ministerial meeting today to discuss the implementation of a new code of conduct to govern activities within the often volatile South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) region. While representatives from the ten nation body have already concurred in principle to the content of the new treatise, the acceptance and acquiesce of China is primordial before such document could even take effect or have some significance at all.

Apparently, this initiative for this new code of conduct (should be in supplement or similar to the 2002 Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) has risen from the recent engagement between the Philippines and China on the issue of jurisdiction and dominion of Scarborough shoal, with the former country seeking ASEAN’s assistance to resolve the stand-off, which threatens to become a full-blown military confrontation if left unresolved by the opposing parties.

Cambodian Premier Hun Sen had proposed the hammering out of a new code of conduct for activities and actions of nations within the entire South China Sea region along with China as a signing party. While the ten members of ASEAN are with one mind in approving this COC, China is not expected to be optimistic on signing the document as China Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin stated “When conditions are ripe China would like to discuss with ASEAN countries the formulation of the COC [code of conduct],". No one could be certain what ‘ripe’ means in that statement.

As of now the content of the new COC has not yet been publicized but to be sure, it should be an improvement on the 2002 COC and should be a binding document this time around among the parties. 
The provisions of the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea include among others, these important guidelines:

;(4)The Parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; 

;( 5) The Parties undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.
Pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the Parties concerned undertake to intensify efforts to seek ways, in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, to build trust and confidence between and among them, including: 

a. holding dialogues and exchange of views as appropriate between their defense and military officials; 
b. ensuring just and humane treatment of all persons who are either in danger or in distress; 
c. notifying, on a voluntary basis, other Parties concerned of any impending joint/combined  military exercise; and 
d. exchanging, on a voluntary basis, relevant information.

; (6) Pending a comprehensive and durable settlement of the disputes, the Parties concerned may explore or undertake cooperative activities. These may include the following:
a. marine environmental protection;b. marine scientific research;c. safety of navigation and communication at sea;d. search and rescue operation; ande. combating transnational crime, including but not limited to trafficking in illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms.The modalities, scope and locations, in respect of bilateral and multilateral cooperation should be agreed upon by the Parties concerned prior to their actual implementation.
As Philippines top diplomat urges for the strict implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pushing for the approval and signing of this new COC by ASEAN and China.

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