Ministers adopt South China Sea code framework

Filipino motorcycle police officers stand in front of the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting and in Manila on Wednesday. — Reuters

ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh and ASEAN Foreign Ministers Chair Alan Peter Cayetano launch the tribute painting during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting (AMM) at the PICC.

The minister went on to express her hope that China would continue to play the constructive role it had so far played to conclude the CoC negotiations.

Several ASEAN diplomats said that among the members who pushed for a communique that retained the more contentious elements was Vietnam, which has competing claims with China over the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and has had several spats with Beijing over energy concessions.

Robespierre L. Bolivar, spokesman of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs, said the foreign ministers "endorsed the framework of the code of conduct for eventual adoption at the ASEAN-China ministerial meeting on August 6".

Southeast Asian countries and China adopted on Sunday the framework of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, setting the stage for long-sought negotiations to start on ways to ease tensions in regional waters.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers yesterday ended an impasse over how to address disputes with China in the South China Sea, issuing a communique that called for militarization to be avoided and noting concern about island-building.

Its claims overlap with those of Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Wang said the situation between claimant states was quite different to previous years and was now more relaxed and conducive to stability.

The tribunal past year ruled China's sweeping claims to the sea had no legal basis.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, walks as he leaves for the Philippines to participate in the ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, Regional Forum, at the Pyongyang Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.

"China and ASEAN have the ability and wisdom to work together to maintain regional peace and stability", he said.

A code of conduct has always been discussed, with both sides agreeing in 2002 on a loose set of guidelines known as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the region.

Diplomats say Asean's requirement of consensus in decision-making allows China to pressure some members to disagree with proposals it dislikes.

The Philippines, which serves as ASEAN chairman this year, called the conclusion of talks between China and ASEAN to finalize the framework "a very big step".

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, also stressed the need to protect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte downplayed the ruling as part of his push for broader bilateral relations with Beijing.

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