South China Sea code of conduct talks to be ‘stabilizer’ for region: China premier


James Pomfret, Neil Jerome Morales November 14, 2017 / 9:55 AM / Updated 7 hours ago

MANILA (Reuters) – China’s agreement to begin talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the fine print of a code of conduct framework for the disputed South China Sea will help to stabilize the region, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said.

“China’s greatest hope is for peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Li told ASEAN leaders in Manila.

The Chinese and Southeast Asian foreign ministers in August 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.

While the South China Sea was not as dominant an issue at this summit at a time of relative calm, there was an underlying acknowledgement amongst ASEAN members that the risk of a miscalculation in the disputed waterway could flare up at anytime.

Li, addressing ASEAN leaders during a summit in the Philippines capital Manila on Monday, said there was a consensus on moving forward and to try to peacefully resolve the issue.

“We hope the talks on the code of conduct will bolster mutual understanding and trust,” Li said, according to a transcript of his speech released by China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

He added that he hoped this would be a “stabilizer” for the region, while pledging that China would “firmly safeguard” the freedom of navigation and overflight in the strategic waterway where $3 trillion worth of goods passes every year.

Critics, however, say the agreement to talk on the details of the code of conduct is only an incremental move, with a possible final agreement still years away.

While Li did not give a timeframe, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, who was chairing the regional summit, said China was being pressed to set a specific date and that Beijing responded it would “consider really fast-tracking” the code of conduct.

“China has graciously agreed to a code of conduct and it binds itself to the agreement,” Duterte said.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven manmade islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

All parties say the framework is only an outline for how the code will be established but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism, raises doubts about how effective the pact will be.

Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the waterway has long been a goal for claimant members of ASEAN, some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China’s disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts.

Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines all claim some or all of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs and islands. China claims most of the waterway and has been aggressively building and militarizing artificial islands.

China’s official news agency Xinhua said in a commentary that the pact to hold consultations on the code of conduct was “a new starting point to jointly build a sea of peace, stability and prosperity”.

Additional reporting by Karen Lema and Manny Mogato in Manila; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Source: Reuters “South China Sea code of conduct talks to be ‘stabilizer’ for region: China premier”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

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Philippines says China wanted non-legally binding South China Sea code


Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano speaks during the closing ceremony of the 50th Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) in Manila, Philippines August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Manuel Mogato August 8, 2017 / 9:56 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – China pushed for a maritime code of conduct with Southeast Asian countries that would not be legally binding, the Philippine foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Alan Peter Cayetano said some countries wanted the South China Sea code to be legally binding, and China preferred the less forceful “binding”. He said all parties realized it was better to drop all mention of it from the framework and move forward.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China hailed the adoption on Sunday of a negotiating framework for the code of conduct (COC) as progress towards preventing disputes.

Cayetano cited the framework as an example of how parties that were historically at odds were co-operating, but his comments indicate that China had initially set out to create a code that had no legal binds.

“Everyone is more open to negotiations,” Cayetano told a news conference. “At first, words about being non-legally binding, China dropped, just said ‘OK, approve the framework and go to the COC’.”

Critics say Beijing’s end game is to either negotiate what amounts to a gentleman’s agreement, or stall and buy time to expand its defense capability on its manmade islands.

ASEAN has long wanted to sign China up to a set of laws to prevent disputes over energy reserves, fishing, and land reclamation, and avoid military conflicts in the South China Sea, where Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and China have competing claims.

ASEAN and China say the framework is only a guide for how the code will be established, but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make it legally binding and enforceable creates doubts about how effective the pact can be.
Australia, Japan and the United States on Monday urged ASEAN and China to ensure the code is “legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law”.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday said it was too soon to discuss components of the code, but whatever is agreed must be stuck to.

“If China is saying now that we’re going for ‘binding’, will we stop talking to them?” Cayetano asked.

“The problem with legally binding is … what are the penalties, what are the mechanisms for adjudication, what tribunal, what court and who will enforce?.

“I think some countries are just being practical.”

How to address Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea has long been ASEAN’s most divisive issue, with China’s influence on the group looming large and complicating efforts to reach consensus decisions.

China is particularly sensitive to even oblique references in ASEAN statements to its artificial islands and rapid development of defense facilities in disputed waters.

Host the Philippines, which is expanding its economic ties with China, made no mention of those in its chairman’s statement on the 27-nation ASEAN Regional Forum issued late on Tuesday.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Neil Fullick and Alister Doyle

Source: Reuters “Philippines says China wanted non-legally binding South China Sea code”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


With South China Sea, US Can Do Nothing but Making Some Noise Now


U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, passes by the table of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the start of the 7th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and its dialogue partners as part of the 50th ASEAN Ministerial Meetings in Manila, Philippines August 7, 2017.Aaron Favila/Pool

In spite of some hardline stance by US Congress and military, the US is no longer able to affect the affairs in the South China Sea except making some noise that is disregarded by the parties concerned, ASEAN and China as they have been making progress in concluding their code of conduct in disregard of US stance or opinions. As a result, Reuters shows in its report today titled “Australia, Japan, U.S. call for South China Sea code to be legally binding” how desperate US and its allies Australia and Japan are. They issued a joint statement on what they want to be included in the code but the statement was denounced by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and ignored by ASEAN.

Reuters says that Wang described the “sharp contrast” in perceptions this year between regional and non-regional countries as reflected by the statement by Japan, the United States and Australia.

It quotes Wang as saying that Coastal countries had “fully recognized the progress we have made through concerted efforts from all parties. On the other hand, some non-regional countries remain in the past … They are not recognizing the positive changes occurring in the South China Sea. Is it that some countries do not want to see greater stability in the South China Sea?”

For a time, the US tried to act as a world police to enforce the law of the sea not binding on it as it is not a signatory. It sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to scare China in vain. Now, what it can do is but to make some noise.

The photo on top shows how unhappy US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was at the affairs in the South China Sea. Tillerson once said that the US shall block China’s access to its artificial islands but later realized that the US simply lacks the capabilities to do so.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Reuters’ report, which is reblogged below:

Australia, Japan, U.S. call for South China Sea code to be legally binding

Manuel Mogato and Christian Shepherd August 7, 2017 / 4:29 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – Australia, Japan and the United States on Monday urged Southeast Asia and China to ensure that a South China Sea code of conduct they have committed to draw up will be legally binding and said they strongly opposed “coercive unilateral actions”.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China should establish a set of rules that were “legally binding, meaningful, effective, and consistent with international law”, the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a statement following a meeting in Manila.

Foreign ministers of ASEAN and China on Sunday adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as a tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

Australia, Japan and the United States also “voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions”.

They urged claimants to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts and militarization of disputed features, a veiled reference to China’s expansion of its defense capability on Mischief, Fiery Cross and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
The three countries are not claimants but have long been vocal on the issue, arguing their interest is in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

They urged China and the Philippines to abide by last year’s international arbitration ruling, which invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims there.

The code framework is an outline for what China and ASEAN call “consultations” on a formal agreement, which could start later this year.

Several ASEAN countries want the code to be legally binding, enforceable and have a dispute resolution mechanism. But experts say China will not allow that and ASEAN may end up acquiescing to what amounts to a gentlemen’s agreement.

SHARP CONTRAST

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there was a “sharp contrast” in perceptions this year between regional and non-regional countries, and the statement by Japan, the United States and Australia showed that.

Coastal countries had “fully recognized the progress we have made through concerted efforts from all parties”, he said.

“On the other hand, some non-regional countries remain in the past … They are not recognizing the positive changes occurring in the South China Sea.

“Is it that some countries do not want to see greater stability in the South China Sea?” he asked.

Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said on Sunday it was premature to conclude the outcome of the negotiations, but added: “Surely when we move into the COC, it has got to have some additional or significant legal effect.”

Jay Batongbacal, an expert on the South China Sea at the University of the Philippines, told news channel ANC the adoption of the framework gave China “the absolute upper hand” in terms of strategy, because it will be able to decide when the negotiating process can start.

China also called out “some countries” who voiced concern over island reclamation in the South China Sea in the joint communique issued by ASEAN members on Sunday.

“In reality it was only one or two country’s foreign ministers who expressed concerns of this kind,” Wang told reporters.

Wang said that China had not carried out reclamation for two years. “At this time, if you ask who is carrying out reclamation, it is definitely not China – perhaps it is the country that brings up the issue that is doing it,” he added.

Several ASEAN diplomats told Reuters that Vietnam was one country that had pushed for stronger wording in the statement. Satellite images have shown that Vietnam has carried out reclamation work in two sites in the disputed seas in recent years.

Additional reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie and Pritha Sarkar


ASEAN, China adopt framework for crafting code on South China Sea


Christian Shepherd and Manuel Mogato August 6, 2017 / 5:47 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China adopted on Sunday a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven manmade islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

All parties say the framework is only an outline for how the code will be established but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism, raises doubts about how effective the pact will be.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the adoption of the framework created a solid foundation for negotiations that could start this year, if “the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and on the premise that there is no major interference from outside parties.”

He told reporters there had been “really tangible progress” so there was “a need to cherish momentum on the South China Sea”.

Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the strategic waterway has long been a goal for claimant members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China’s disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts.

Beijing insists its activities are for defense purposes, in areas it considers its waters. Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, however, all claim some or all of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs and islands.

Some critics and diplomats believe China’s sudden interest in the code after 15 years of delays is to drag out the negotiating process to buy time to complete its strategic objectives in the South China Sea, through which more than $3 billion of ship-borne trade passes annually.

WEAKER HAND

Opponents also say it is being pushed through at a time when the United States, long seen as a crucial buffer against China’s maritime assertiveness, is distracted by other issues and providing no real clarity about its security strategy in Asia, thus weakening ASEAN’s bargaining position.

The framework has not been made public but a leaked two-page blueprint seen by Reuters is broad and leaves wide scope for disagreement.

It urges a commitment to the “purposes and principles” of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but does not specify adherence to it, for example.

A separate ASEAN document, dated May and seen by Reuters, shows that Vietnam pushed for stronger, more specific text in the framework, wanting mention of a dispute resolution mechanism and respecting “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction”.

Sovereign rights cover entitlements to fish and extraction of natural resources.

Several ASEAN countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have said they still favor making the code legally binding, something experts say China is unlikely to agree to.

Wang said he would not try to anticipate what the code will comprise, but said whatever is signed must be adhered to.

Robespierre Bolivar, foreign ministry spokesman of host Philippines, said the adoption of the framework symbolised the commitment to creating a “substantive and effective” code.

Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Source: Reuters “ASEAN, China adopt framework for crafting code on South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


ASEAN overcomes communique impasse, urges non-militarisation in South China Sea


MANILA (Reuters) – Southeast Asian foreign ministers ended an impasse on Sunday over how to address disputes with China in the South China Sea, issuing a communique that called for militarization to be avoided and noting concern about island-building.

The South China Sea has long been the most divisive issue for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), with China’s influence looming large over its activities. Some countries are wary about the possible repercussions of defying Beijing by taking a stronger stand.

ASEAN failed to issue the customary statement on Saturday, over what diplomats said was disagreement about whether to make oblique references to China’s rapid expansion of its defense capabilities on artificial islands in disputed waters.

China is sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its seven reclaimed reefs, three of which have runways, missile batteries, radars and, according to some experts, the capability to accommodate fighter jets.

The communique late on Sunday takes a stronger position than an earlier, unpublished draft, which was a watered-down version of one issued last year in Laos.

The agreed text “emphasized the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint”.

It said that after extensive discussions, concerns were voiced by some members about land reclamation “and activities in the area which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tension and may undermine peace, security and stability”.

ASEAN’s deadlock over the statement highlights China’s growing influence on the grouping at a time of uncertainty over the new U.S. administration’s security priorities and whether it will try to keep China’s maritime activities in check.

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.

Another diplomat, however, said there was no real disagreement on the contents of the communique and stressed that the initial draft was seen by some members as weak.

Also on Sunday 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.

Reporting by Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Gareth Jones

Source: Reuters “ASEAN overcomes communique impasse, urges non-militarisation in South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


With Philippines Seeking Détente, China Prevails in South China Sea


Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez says the Philippines is not giving up its claims but seeking a way to become a peaceful neighbour with China. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

SCMP says in its report “No South China Sea trade-off for economic gains, Philippines says”:

Manila pursues twin track with Beijing, separating maritime disputes from finance and trade ties

Manila is unlikely to compromise on its maritime sovereignty despite Beijing’s chequebook diplomacy and economic inducements, according to the Philippines’ finance chief.

In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, Philippine Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez said Manila was trying to protect its interests by separating maritime disputes from its efforts to woo Chinese investment.

Putting aside the dispute and conducting win-win cooperation in resource exploitation is precisely what China wants so that what Manila has been doing precisely plays into China’s hands.

SCMP says that other claimants especially Vietnam is unhappy, but what can they do?

With China’s strong military and artificial islands and the US unwilling to fight China for other claimants’ interests the South China Sea is already China’ lake. Other claimants can do nothing even if China wants to have all the resources there alone. They must regard themselves as lucky that China is willing to share as China has a tradition of being friendly to its neighbors.

Be realistic to cooperate with China. There is no other ways out for other claimants as the US is unwilling and unable to fight for them.

If China has grown even stronger and the US continues its decline, they may even lose the chance to have a share of the resources in the South China Sea. No one can ensure that China’s future leaders will continue Chinese current leaders’ policy of détente.

What if Chinese military drives away all other claimants from the islands and reefs claimed by China as its territories but occupied by others? What if China conducts resource exploitation alone with the technology and equipment other claimants cannot afford and with the protection of Chinese navy and air force?

Think about that.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2105582/no-south-china-sea-trade-economic-gains-philippines.


Philippines calls for ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between ASEAN, China on sea code


By Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato | MANILA Fri May 19, 2017 | 7:58am EDT

Southeast Asian nations and China should start with a “gentleman’s agreement” on the busy South China Sea waterway because no mechanism exists to legally enforce any deal, the Philippine foreign minister said on Friday.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China on Thursday finished a draft framework for negotiating a code of conduct, despite regional scepticism whether Beijing will commit to rules likely to restrain its maritime ambitions.

Southeast Asian nations with claims in the South China Sea have long wanted to sign China up to a legally binding and enforceable code. It was unclear if that was mentioned in the framework draft, which has not been made public.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano played down the importance of a legally binding contract.

“If it’s legally binding, which court can the parties go to? And the countries that do not comply, will they respect that court?” he asked reporters.

“Let’s start with it being binding, gentlemen’s agreement. We have a community of nations that signed it.”

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in sea-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Click tmsnrt.rs/2qyBNpf for graphic on overlapping claims in the South China Sea

Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, in a case filed on maritime boundaries filed by the previous Philippine government in 2013.

A code of conduct is the key objective of a 2002 Declaration on Conduct, large parts of which China has ignored, particularly a commitment not to occupy or reclaim uninhabited features.

China has piled sand upon reefs to build seven islands in disputed parts of the Spratly archipelago. China has unfinished business there and has been transforming three of the reefs into what experts believe could be forward operating bases.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday described them as “some kind of armed garrison.”

The code framework would envisage a round-the-clock hotline and urge defense officials to find ways to follow the code, Chee Wee Kiong of Singapore’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Some ASEAN diplomats fear China’s sudden interest in completing it could be a strategy to buy time for Beijing to wrap up construction activities.

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

One ASEAN diplomat said the latest draft did not mention any dispute settlement mechanism or sanctions for violations, but focused mostly on managing tension and building trust.

“We are very realistic and practical,” said the source, who declined to be identified. “We wanted first to pick the low hanging fruit. If we went straight to the contentious issues, we would not get to where we are now.”

The framework represented progress, but expectations should be realistic, said Jay Batongbacal, a Philippine academic and expert on the South China Sea.

“Given it’s been 15 years to get to a draft, I’m not really holding my breath,” he added.

Click tmsnrt.rs/2pSNmZq for graphic on Turf war on the South China Sea

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: Reuters “Philippines calls for ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between ASEAN, China on sea code”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.