Asean, China move to next stage on South China Sea negotiations

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by MERGAWATI ZULFAKAR

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia (The Star/ANN) - Senior Asean and Chinese officials made “headway” yesterday when they completed negotiations on the draft framework on the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the contested South China Sea.

Officials, who met in Guiyang, China, said the negotiation was wrapped up ahead of the mid-year target.

“We are pleased to announce that the senior officials have completed the negotiation of the draft CoC framework, ahead of the mid-2017 timeline which leaders of Asean and China had set.

“This draft CoC framework will be submitted to the Foreign Ministers for consideration,” according to a joint press statement issued at the end of the one-day senior officials meeting.

The statement also said the draft framework includes elements which parties have agreed upon and will provide guidance as a base for consultation on the CoC.

“We hope to continue the positive momentum of consultations and make steady progress towards a substantive CoC based on consensus as directed by our leaders,” the statement read.

It noted that the South China Sea issue was discussed and officials were encouraged that, for the past few months, there have been no major disruptions and the situation in the area and region has become relatively more stable.

The proposed CoC seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which commits to following the United Nations Con­vention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, and refraining from the action of inhabiting the presently uninhabited island, reefs, shoals, cays and other features.

The area, which has rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits, is claimed by four Asean countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. China and Taiwan are the two non-Asean claimant countries.

It is understood the Joint Working Group working on the CoC will have its meeting in September in the Philippines.

An official in an immediate reaction said with the conclusion of the meeting yesterday, it would signal the first step towards the establishment of the CoC.

“China is not giving any timeline to establish the CoC at this point in time,” said an Asean official.