China, Philippines urged to abide by maritime ruling

Thursday, 10 Aug, 2017

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have overshadowed discussions at the annual Association of South-East Asian Nations ministerial meetings in Manila, which were being held on Saturday as the regional bloc was to mark its 50th founding anniversary.

In their communique the ASEAN ministers confirmed that the regional bloc was ready to begin "substantive" negotiations on a code of conduct.

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 and Spratly archipelago and has had several spats with Beijing over energy concessions.

They urged South China Sea claimants "to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarisation of disputed features and undertaking unilateral actions that caused permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation, " the statement said.

Also yesterday the foreign ministers of Asean and China adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

China and Taiwan, as well as four members of ASEAN - the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei - all have territorial claims in the sea, and overlapping claims have been a source of tensions.

They also noted concerns expressed by some members about land reclamations and emphasized "the importance of non-militarization".

"The atmosphere of this year is different from the past", Wang said.

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They also mentioned in their statement a vague reference to an worldwide arbitration ruling previous year that invalidated China's historical claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway.

"The leaders of ASEAN and China are expected to announce the formal start of negotiations on the code at their summit in November", Bolivar told reporters.

He was referring to Lê Lương Minh, secretary-general of the ASEAN and former deputy foreign minister of Vietnam.

She also said the onus was on all countries to maintain regional peace and stability and respect global law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"Meaning adhered to and observed by all parties", he said.

"There's still no consensus", a diplomat said earlier during the weekend, according to Agence France-Presse. "But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language".

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Japan's new top diplomat, Taro Kono, also called on their Southeast Asian counterparts to rapidly negotiate a legally binding maritime code with China aimed at preventing an escalation of conflicts in one of the world's busiest waterways.

The Philippines, under new President Rodrigo Duterte, made a decision to play down the verdict in favor of pursuing warmer ties with Beijing.