ASEAN favors non-militarization, self-restraint in South China Sea

Posted August 09, 2017

"If there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as the precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders' meeting, we will jointly announce the official start of the code of conduct consultation", Wang said.

After affirming the importance of freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and overflight rights above it, the ministers emphasized the "importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states" in averting further tension.

The proposed COC is an agreement to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

Astride the world's busiest and most strategic shipping lanes, the region was the fulcrum of the administration's rebalancing toward Asia.

Tillerson said halting missile test launches, which have anxious neighbors South Korea and Japan, was a first step toward dialogue.

"Ultimately, President Moon Jae-in is a strong believer on dialogue and wants to get things on a different track with North Korea", said John Delury, an associate professor at Yonsei University's Graduate School of worldwide Studies in Seoul.

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.

While China agrees with sanctions on the North, Wang, the Chinese Foreign Minister, said Sunday that they should be aimed at forcing Pyongyang to return to negotiations directed at taming its nuclear ambitions.

"China and ASEAN have the ability and wisdom to work together to maintain regional peace and stability", he said.

"This shows our common wish to protect the peace and stability in the South China Sea", he told reporters, adding that the situation in the South China Sea is more relaxed and conducive to stability.

That the framework is broad and leaves wide scope for disagreement has critics raising doubts about how effective the COC will be.

It comes after a month of negotiations with China, the North's main trading partner and ally, to shore up their support for fresh punitive measures. "But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language".

A final copy of the framework seen by The Associated Press also did not mention whether the code should be legally binding, which most ASEAN states demand but China opposes, or the extent of disputed areas to be covered by such a code.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the ministers were divided over a U.S. proposal to suspend the North from the ASEAN Regional Forum, which will hold its annual meeting on Monday.

Southeast Asian countries have expressed concern over China's militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea but have reserved their opinions on whether a code of conduct for the disputed waters should be legally binding.

The current ASEAN chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, has made it a priority to fix bilateral ties with China, which has rejected an global court's ruling in 2016 that invalidated its claim to the entire sea region.