ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting, 2 August 2018, Singapore. From left: Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, Myanmar International Cooperation Minister Kyaw Tin, Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Viet Nam Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, PRC State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Brunei Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi. (Photo credit: ASEAN 2018 Organising Committee)
SINGAPORE – Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed on a single draft document that will form the basis of negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, said Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in his statement on Thursday (August 2) during the annual ASEAN-China ministerial meeting in Singapore.
When asked for details of the draft text, the official declined to reveal any further information due to the “sensitivity of the negotiations,” adding that it would be “premature” to set a deadline for when the negotiations would be completed.
Minister Balakrishnan, however, clarified that the code of conduct “was never meant to resolve territorial disputes.” Therefore, he added that the agreement on a single text does not mean that negotiations are over, or that all the competing claims over territory in the South China Sea are resolved.
“The COC is meant to generate a code of conduct that would ensure peace, stability, and confidence gets build up so that we can continue to make collective progress between ASEAN and China, whilst we take time to resolve the territorial disputes,” he said.
The official called the draft text as “a major achievement” and a “milestone” for the regional bloc.
China has been in dispute with several ASEAN member countries including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam over territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Singapore is the country coordinator of ASEAN-China dialogue relations for three years aside from being this year’s chair of the ASEAN.
“Everyone is glad that we’ve reached this stage. Everyone also hopes that we’ll be able to accelerate the process,” Balakrishnan said.
Minister Balakrishnan said that what is important at present is “to maintain sufficient flexibility so that nobody feels locked in” on the course of the negotiations. – Maila Guevarra / Marje Pelayo