Pushing as hard as it can for the COC

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    THE Philippines may be a medium-size developing nation but it has a strong voice in the regional alliance Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), so when our Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the country will “push hard as it can” for the completion of the negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC), most everybody listened.

    Locsin spoke at the Asean Regional Forum last Sept. 12 and again, the Philippines pushed hard so that the Code of Conduct, an accord that seeks to prevent the escalation of tension in the disputed sea, would see the light of day. Specifically, Locsin expressed hope for a “substantial headway” on the second reading of the negotiating draft of the COC.

    ‘The success of the effort is reflected in the unanimity for peace and stability of all the Asean countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines…’

    The Philippines and the rest of Asean, and even China for that matter, recognize the primordial need for a workable COC in the South China Sea and the region in this period of public health emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic-induced global economic crisis afflicts Asia’s countries as much as the rest of the world.

    Thanks to the leadership of the two co-chairmen of the Asean-China Code of Conduct negotiations — the Philippines and China– that progress on the negotiations for COC has been progressing at a fast pace but in a comprehensive and inclusive manner.

    The target for completion and signing of the China-Asean code of conduct was envisioned by President Duterte and President Xi Jinping for the year 2021. So far, all the parties to the negotiations are on board to finish it as scheduled.

    Several years have passed since the idea of a code of conduct to outline the norms and responsibilities of countries with conflicting claims in the South China Sea to avoid untoward maritime incidents.

    President Duterte declared at the 33rd ASEAN Summit in November, 2018: “The Philippines will do its part to realize a more peaceful, stable and secure region. As country coordinator of Asean-China Dialogue Relations until 2021, we are committed to the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct.”

    The success of the effort is reflected in the unanimity for peace and stability of all the Asean countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines which have maintained faith in the process despite enticements from opposing positions.

    To the credit of Asean members, practical wisdom continues to prevail and Asean-China cooperation remains robust not only in perfecting the COC but also in pursuing the economic initiative to ensure fast economic recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis.