China reports progress on South China Sea code of conduct

Rodiano Bonacci
Mag 19, 2017

"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. It was unclear if that was mentioned in the framework draft, which has not been made public.

For the 10 ASEAN member states, meanwhile, the agreement offers a chance to freeze further Chinese advances in the region at a time when the Trump administration has turned its focus away from the region with the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other developments, Huang said.

The two countries are at odds over a group of small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea administered as the Senkakus by Japan but claimed as the Diaoyus by China.

China has installed rocket launchers on a disputed reef in the South China Sea to ward off Vietnamese military combat divers, Reuters reported citing a Chinese state-run newspaper, The Defense Times.

Along with the Philippines, ASEAN members Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei also maintain claims in the South China Sea that overlap with those of China and Taiwan.

As South China Sea analysts await the public release of the framework, several questions persist about the nature of the agreement.

The issue has come to a head in recent years as China has pursued a strategy of building artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities in the region, provoking strong reactions from other claimants as well as the U.S., which argues Beijing's actions threaten freedom of navigation and overflight through the strategically vital waters.

Under the Philippines' chairmanship of ASEAN, China's relative bargaining position has clearly improved with the Southeast Asian grouping.

It claims as its border in the South China Sea the so called Nine-Dash Line (also referred to as the Ten-Dash Line or the Eleven-Dash Line), a demarcation line, with the claimed territories including the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, the Scarborough Shoal, the Pratas Islands, and the Macclesfield Bank, among others.

The samples came from the Shenhu area in the northern part of the sea, starting last Wednesday about 200 meters below the seabed at a depth of 1,266 meters, the China Geographical Survey said. A watered down code of conduct that effectively hands Beijing dominion over the South China Sea may be the next step. The former president, Benigno Aquino took Beijing to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague over China's 2012 occupation of the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which lies less than 200 nautical miles from Manila.

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

That document saw all eleven parties pledge their commitment to eventually conclude a binding code of conduct.

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