U.S. Supports ASEAN Code of Conduct in West Philippine Sea

U.S. comes now out in the open an openly expresses its support to ASEAN, especially to members who has standing dispute with China over territories in South China Sea.

China claims jurisdiction over the entire span of the South China Sea, to include islands and shoals, anything protruding above sea level, high tide or low tide. But the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia dispute many locations there, especially the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Despite that tensions in the disputed areas have reached peak level, almost resulting to armed clashes, especially in Scarborough Shoal where Chinese vessels were seen stationing for months now, without let up, China has refused to submit the conflict to international courts, standing pat amidst challenges from international community – ASEAN and now America.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Indonesia and had made statement encouraging ASEAN to pursue the establishment of a code of conduct for countries involved in the South China Sea disputes. In July, ASEAN failed to issue the code amidst intense bickering among its members.

She said, “The most important thing is that we end up in a diplomatic process where these issues are addressed in a strong diplomatic conversation between a unified ASEAN and China rather than through any kind of coercion.”

The United States main interest is the free, safe and unimpeded passage of ships in the disputed waters, as this would affect global trade in the event conflicts there reached worst situation, which is armed conflict for that matter.

As early as 2010, the United States has insisted that freedom of navigation should prevail in the West Philippine Sea and that now expresses strong support to the framing of the code of conduct of nations involved in the disputes. Clinton had stated that the code would act as a neutralizing mechanism that could prevent flare-ups and conflict escalations. Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand however had warned that excessive attention on the issue may prove counterproductive, inflaming tensions rather than calming the situation.

“We just hope that all the attention and the concern would not add to the fragility and instability over the issue. Want a conducive environment that would enable us to achieve the [code of conduct] as soon as possible. As a major dialogue partner, the US certainly has a role to play and a contribution to make," Surin told AFP.
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