The long-delayed framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea may be finally completed by the middle of the year, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said on Wednesday. In a press briefing, Yasay said the Philippines, as chairman of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will intensify efforts to fast track the discussions on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and eventually complete the COC.
In fact, discreet discussions are currently underway and China has been “very cooperative” in the process, he said.
“The formulation of the COC is precisely being discussed right now. I don’t want to preempt anything by revealing further information but I hope that it will be achieved by mid-2017,” Yasay said. “There is now a convergence of national interest to come up with the COC and we are fortunate to have gotten this level.”
The COC has been in the works since 2002 but “intervening events,” as Yasay called, prompted years of delays and prevented it from moving forward.
He said that the COC might “open the door to speed up bilateral engagement” with China to eventually enforce the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal in the disputed waters.
The framework, Yasay disclosed, will include key elements and principles for the legally-binding COC.
“I hate to think a party not to be bound by it or deviate from it. I’m sure that they will be bound by it,” he said, pointing out that the COC should be agreed by all the parties unanimously.
The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration last year nullified China’s excessive claims in the contested waters as it upheld the Philippines’ rights to areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Apart from the Philippines, other ASEAN countries that have overlapping claims in the South China Sea are Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia.