ASEAN to Step Up Talks on South China Sea’s Code of Conduct
Jakarta. ASEAN under Indonesia’s chairmanship is planning to step up its negotiations on the code of conduct, or COC, on the South China Sea, a highly contested strategic body of water rich in marine resources of which many ASEAN members are the littoral countries.
ASEAN foreign ministers on Saturday gathered at the bloc’s secretariat in Jakarta once again to discuss driving cooperation both internally and also with dialogue partners. The lengthy COC talks have become inseparable from ASEAN-China relations, and the code has yet to see the light of day.
According to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, 2023 ASEAN chair Indonesia plans to host more rounds of COC negotiations, with this year’s first series of talks slated for March.
“Commitment of members to conclude the negotiation of the COC as soon as possible is obvious, bearing in mind the need to track a substantive, effective, and actionable COC,” Retno told reporters, shortly after the group’s ministerial retreat.
In 1992, ASEAN member states issued a declaration to resolve disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means. A decade later, China and ASEAN inked a declaration of conduct (DOC) on the South China Sea. Under the DOC, the signees promised to exercise self-restraint from conducting activities that may disrupt the regional peace and order such as inhabiting uninhabited islands, among others. The document calls for the adoption of a COC to further promote peace and stability.
“Members are committed to promoting the implementation of the DOC,” Retno said.
The South China Sea borders Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and China.
Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are the claimant states of the strategic waterway.
An official at the Foreign Affairs Ministry told the same presser that ASEAN had nothing to do with the territorial disputes, and the claimant states should discuss such matters between themselves. This means that the COC will unlikely resolve the territorial disputes.
“ASEAN does not deal with issues related to ownership, but we only [discuss] maritime matters. Ownership should be discussed through bilateral negotiations. Ownership occurs because of the overlapping claims between the ASEAN countries themselves,” Sidharto Suryodipuro, the ministry’s director-general for ASEAN cooperation, said.
Sidharto likened the situation to when Indonesia and Vietnam came to an agreement on the boundaries of their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) late last year.
“We hope that the COC is implementable, effective, and is in accordance with international laws,” Sidharto said.
At the ministerial retreat, the ASEAN senior diplomats also discussed advancing a mutually beneficial and more meaningful partnership with the European Union (EU), Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, Australia, and Japan.Tags: