July 27, 2017

China, ASEAN agree on framework for S.China Sea code of conduct

19 May 2017, 05:08 | Ross Houston

Fiery Cross Reef. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative Digitalglobe

Fiery Cross Reef. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative  Digitalglobe

On Thursday, China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed a framework for a code of conduct that will apply to the disputed waterway in the latest sign of waning USA influence.

"We are pleased to announce that the senior officials have completed the negotiations of the draft COC (code of conduct) framework, ahead of the mid-2017 timeline which leaders of ASEAN and China had set", the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Besides China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the area.

Just two days ago, the rivals said in a joint communique China released Monday that they had agreed to "manage and properly control maritime disputes, not take any actions to complicate the situation or expand the dispute, and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea".

The spokesperson said that an investigation is now underway to determine why the weaponry, which was purchased from China, malfunctioned. Romana will lead the country's delegation while China will be represented by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua. ASEAN is now chaired by the Philippines, whose leader Rodrigo Duterte has pursued a bilateral rapprochement with Beijing since being sworn into office in June 2016.

"I'm sure it will be a very important point of discussion in future consultations", he said, suggesting that Thursday's framework agreement is likely a general agreement.

Experts say China wants to appear to engage ASEAN or bind its claimant states to a weak code at a time when US policy on the South China Sea is in a state of flux.

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Under former President Benigno Aquino, the Philippines had adopted a tough stance on China's claims, but the country's anger at the world's second largest economy has become a warm embrace following the election past year of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has declined to push China on territorial issues in hopes of being rewarded with investment and aid.

China's government has also repeatedly asserted that it can do whatever it likes on what it says is its own territory.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in goods pass every year.

As India and Singapore hold rare military drills in the South China Sea this week, China on Friday said it wasn't opposed to "normal" exchanges but warned that the exercises "should not hurt the interests of other countries".

Blue Whale 1, the ultra-deep-water semisubmersible drilling rig built by the largest semisubmersible platform manufacturer, China Yantai CIMC Raffles Offshore Ltd, is conducting the tests in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in goods pass every year.

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