The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have agreed to start negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct in a move that could bring some stability in an area contested by several claimants.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said this was reached during the 20th ASEAN-China Summit on Monday.
“One of the outcomes of the meeting is to commence the negotiations on a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea after concluding a Framework of Agreement on Code of Conduct,” Roque said in a statement on the regional leaders’ meeting.
It is unclear, however, when negotiations will begin and who will be involved.
The South China Sea has been the subject of a territorial dispute among six claimants: China, Taiwan, and four ASEAN members. These are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
A code of conduct will set the rules of behavior in the contested waters even as the overlapping sovereignty issues remain unresolved.
The announcement comes after a relative easing of tensions among the claimants.
While ASEAN denounced Chinese reclamation activities in the South China Sea in its Joint Communique last August, the regional bloc has engaged the economic superpower in talks towards crafting a code that would be legally binding.
They successfully adopted a framework agreement outlining the COC in August.
Initially, China had set a precondition for official talks to start. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said negotiations would begin if there is “no major disruption” from outside parties and the situation in the South China Sea is “generally stable.”
The ASEAN-China Summit was led by President Rodrigo Duterte, who said Sunday that Chinese President Xi Jinping had assured him in bilateral talks that there would be “safe passage for all” in the disputed sea.
Aside from agreeing to commence negotiations, Roque said the Summit yielded joint statements enhancing anti-corruption, tourism, and infrastructure connectivity cooperation between the two parties.
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