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China & ASEAN Work Toward Code of Conduct in Disputed South China Sea

Tough negotiations are ahead for China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as they attempt to pull together a code of conduct for avoiding mishaps in the contested South China Sea.

Beijing claims more than 90 percent of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea. This overlaps with areas Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines say belongs to them. The code of conduct is aimed at avoiding accidents as those nations explore for oil, gas, and fish, as well as developing some of the many islets in the South China Sea.

Experts say China will oppose defining the scope of the sea, making the code binding, and any enforcement of actions that would limit its maritime activities.

China and ASEAN foreign ministers approved a framework code in Manila on Sunday. But China may fear that a code of conduct would expose or curb some of its marine activities.

The framework that was approved doesn’t have any specifics that might alarm China. Rather, it covers broad advice about avoiding incidents between aircraft and sea vessels.

ASEAN members will want a legally binding code with an enforcement scheme and ways of monitoring incidents. China is likely to protest any eventual code clauses on enforcement, legal authority, and South China Sea boundaries that cover islands it believes it controls outright.

It will also oppose any link to compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, says Sean King, Senior Vice President of Park Strategies.

Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said his country wants a legally binding code in the end—but, he told reporters, the code should reflect a consensus.

 

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