Beijing to ‘discuss South China Sea Code of Conduct soon’

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, is shown the way by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping before a signing ceremony in Beijing in October 2016. Photo: AFP.

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will have further talks soon on the long-debated Code of Conduct for the South China Sea – possibly next month, according to a consultative meeting between China and the Philippines in Manila on Tuesday.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou and his Filipino counterpart Enrique Manalo wrapped up a second meeting on the bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea.

Despite its name, the Philippines is currently the only nation taking part in the framework spearheaded by Beijing to delineate its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy soldiers during a visit to a Chinese Naval ship in Davao city, Philippines, May 1, 2017. Picture taken May 1, 2017. China Daily/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS14RU8

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes Chinese naval officers during a visit to a Chinese warship in Davao city on May 1, 2017. Photo: China Daily/via Reuters

“With the objective of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region, both sides discussed ways to manage and prevent incidents at sea, promote dialogue and cooperation on maritime issues, and enhance mutual trust and confidence,” the pair said in a statement on the “positive, fruitful and productive meeting”.

A joint task force had identified possible cooperative moves that could be explored in the future, but both Beijing and Manila reaffirmed that contentious maritime issues were “not the sum total” of bilateral ties.

“Both sides reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, freedom of international commerce and other peaceful uses of the sea, addressing territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 UNCLOS,” the statement said. UNCLOS is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It said both sides also agreed to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities in the sea, handling disputes with caution to avoid complicating the situation.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (R) shakes hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, right, shakes hands with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Manila in July 2017. Photo: Reuters

There were intensive discussions on mutually beneficial joint initiatives and consensus on the convening of technical working groups on issues such as fisheries, oil and gas, marine scientific research and marine environmental protection, and political security, in the framework of the talks, Xinhua reported, quoting a meeting document.

Both sides “had a productive exchange of views on ways to strengthen cooperation in areas such as marine environmental protection, fisheries, marine scientific research, and oil and gas, without prejudice to their respective positions on sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.

The first bilateral talks were held in May 2017 in China’s southwestern city of Guiyang, after the Beijing-Manila relations warmed up following an international arbitration ruling in The Hague that declared much of Beijing’s territorial claims in the vast waters void. China has not recognized the ruling, however.

The thaw in relations by the newly installed President Duterte shocked Manila’s neighbors, particularly Vietnam. Hanoi has been steadfast in claims of sovereignty over atolls and reefs in the Spratly Islands, which Beijing also claims.

Beijing has always brushed aside international mediation and prefers bilateral talks and joint-development of resources with other countries that claim islands or areas in the South China Sea. The third bilateral meeting will be held in China in the second half of 2018.

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