Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China adopted on Sunday a negotiating framework for a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, Reuters reported.
The 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN) and China have agreed on a framework for how they will go about drafting a code. However, critics say this move as tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.
The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven manmade islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.
The South China Sea has long been the most divisive issue for ASEAN, with China's influence looming large over its activities. Some countries are wary about the possible repercussions of defying Beijing by taking a stronger stand.
The report said that China is sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its seven reclaimed reefs, three of which have runways, missile batteries, radars and, according to some experts, the capability to accommodate fighter jets.
Sunday’s announcement was preceded by Vietnam’s insistence that a tough language be stated in the joint communiqué concerning China’s land reclamation in the contested waters, AFP said quoting two diplomats involved in the talks.
AFP said that Vietnam is adamant, and China is effectively using Cambodia
to champion its interests. But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language.
The Philippines won a landmark decision at the United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal but China has repeatedly rejected the decision. But China, despite being a signatory to the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea, ignored the ruling.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the adoption of the framework created a solid foundation for negotiations that could start this year, if "the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and on the premise that there is no major interference from outside parties."
Meanwhile, a research report said that Global trade through the South China Sea totaled 28 trillion U.S. dollars from 2008 to 2016, with annual value rising from 2.61 trillion dollars in 2008 to 3.37 trillion in 2016.
The new research led by Bonnie Glaser with Center for Strategic & International Studies finds an estimated 3.37 trillion dollars in trade passed through the South China Sea in 2016. These estimates represent a sizeable proportion of international trade, constituting some 21 percent of global trade in 2016, the research said.