ASEAN leaders take center stage for photo opportunity during the ASEAN-China Summit on November 14, 2018.
SINGAPORE – For the first time after more than two decades, China has finally spoken of a clear time frame on negotiating for a final code of conduct in the hotly-disputed territories in the South China Sea.
During his opening remarks at the ASEAN-China Summit on Wednesday (November 14), Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said China acknowledges the differences among countries in the region but noted that the atmosphere has already improved through the years even amid the decade-long dispute as neighboring countries “have found the way to properly managed and diffuse differences.”
In fact, Prime Minister Li said, China has now agreed for a time frame to negotiate specifically on the establishment of a code of conduct in South China Sea.
“In the past years, overall peace in the South China Sea have been maintained. Now the situation is moving towards greater stability for this year. Thanks to the concerted efforts from all the parties, we have reached the single draft negotiating text and we have agreed to finish the first reading of the text in 2019,” he said.
“On that basis, China is ready to work with all the ASEAN countries toward concluding COC consultations in three-years time. It is our hope that we can set of a time frame so that in three- years time the COC will become a set of rules contributing to peace and stability in the South China Sea that will also be conducive to free trade and the further upgrading of our free trade area,” the Prime Minister added.
President Rodrigo Duterte, meanwhile, being the ASEAN-China dialogue relations coordinator, delivered the ASEAN’s commitment with China in working towards “the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in its entirety and the expeditious conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).”
He added that ASEAN and China are now “in progress in the initial phase of the COC” while looking forward to the completion of the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by 2019.
“As co-chair of the COC negotiations, the Philippines will continue to work closely together with the ASEAN Member States and China for the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC,” Duterte said while both parties agree to maintain peace, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
In 1995, China took control of Mischief Reef in Spratlys Island that is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (ECC).
The Philippines, in response, lodged a protest through the regional bloc.
The dispute with China reached the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which ruled in 2016 that China has no legal basis for claiming the territories in the South China Sea. – Marje Pelayo