Asean, China meet to set stage for negotiations on South China Sea Code of Conduct

In a handout photo provided by the US military, Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on May 21, 2015. PHOTO: NYTIMES

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network) - Representatives from member-states of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and China have started meeting in Manila to kick off the discussions that could open up negotiations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the COC would be tackled during the 22nd meeting of the Asean-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties (JWG-DOC) that was convened on Wednesday (Aug 30).

"The meeting in Manila will build upon the positive momentum that Asean and China have achieved in implementing the DOC and in moving forward with the talks on the COC," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement on Thursday.

"We expect a candid and productive dialogue aimed at confidence-building and identifying practical areas for cooperation in the South China Sea," the secretary said.

Mr Cayetano added that officials will also do the groundwork for negotiations on the COC, which the leaders of Asean and China are expected to announce at their summit in Manila in November.

The DFA secretary noted that the practical cooperation between Asean and China in the South China Sea has been steadily improving over the last year.

"Since the last Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane in July 2016, we've been able to operationalise the Foreign Ministry-to-Foreign Ministry communication hotlines to allow our relevant officials to address any incidents in the region," Mr Cayetano said.

"We have also agreed to explore how to apply the principles of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea area," he added.

Asean and China adopted the framework of the COC in the South China Sea at their meeting on Aug 6. The ongoing JWG-DOC is also expected to discuss the working approach for negotiations on the COC in the South China Sea as one of its focus areas, Mr Cayetano said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.