February 25, 2018, 10:06 am
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Code of Conduct talks in 2018; parties to behave

BY ASHZEL HACHERO AND JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

CHINA and the Philippines have agreed to avoid force to resolve their differences over the South China Sea as President Duterte announced that “substantive negotiations” on a Code of Conduct would start in early 2018.

The joint statement, issued on Thursday by China and carried by its official Xinhua news agency, said China and the Philippines reaffirmed the importance of peace in the South China Sea and of freedom of navigation and overflight.

The statement was issued at the end of a visit to Manila by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

“There should be no violence or threats of violence and the dispute should be resolved via talks between the relevant sovereign countries,” it added.

“Both sides believe that the maritime dispute is not the full sum of the China-Philippines relationship,” the statement said.

China and the Philippines have long sparred over the South China Sea, but relations have improved considerably under Duterte.

In a separate statement summing up discussions at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, Duterte took note of the “improving relations between Asean and China” in the South China Sea.

“We announced that as a next step, Asean Member States and China will officially commence substantive negotiations on the text of the COC (Code of Conduct) and tasked the Joint Working Group and the Senior Officials’ Meeting on the DOC (Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea) as the bodies responsible for drafting the COC. We looked forward to the subsequent convening of the 23rd ASEAN-China Joint Working Group Meeting on the Implementation of the DOC in Viet Nam in early 2018,” he said.

The release of the statement came two days after Asean and China announced the formal start of negotiations for a code of conduct to manage tensions in the disputed waters.

Duterte said the two sides also had successfully tested the hotline among foreign ministries on how to manage maritime emergencies.

“In our view, these are practical measures that could reduce tensions, and the risks of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation,” he said.

The statement also took note of practical measures such as a hotline where maritime emergencies in the disputed waters may be reported and addressed adding that such move could help reduce tensions, accidents and miscalculation.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines is pushing for a legally binding code of conduct.

“Otherwise, if it’s merely aspirational, then it will not promote the kind of peace and stability that they are hoping for,” Roque said.

Roque said the international arbitration ruling favoring the Philippines’ claim in the disputed waters against China’s is “unlikely” to be used in the drafting of the Code of Conduct.

He said the Code of Conduct would be applicable to all claimant countries while the July 2016 arbitral ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) only covers the Philippines and China.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, in a television interview, said President Duterte would raise the issue of the arbitral ruling with China before his term as president ends in 2022.

“What the President is saying here…is that within his term in the next four years, he will have to talk to China and confront them about our claims the West Philippines. It’s already there, the victory in the PCA. What is important here is that, we are gaining from China,” he said. – With Reuters
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