China and Asean to meet next week to discuss code of conduct on South China Sea

China and four Asean states have overlapping claims over the South China Sea, an issue that has remained unresolved for decades. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Officials from Asean member states and China will continue negotiations on a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea next week in Jakarta.

The meeting, organised by Indonesia, will be held from March 8 to 10, and China will send delegates led by a deputy director-general-level official in charge of maritime affairs, said a diplomat who declined to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media. 

China and four Asean states – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have overlapping claims over the strategic waterway, an issue which has remained unresolved for decades.

As the rotating chair of Asean in 2023, Indonesia has previously said it will hold new rounds of negotiations with member states and China.

The official name of the meeting will be “Meeting of the China-Asean Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (JWG-DOC)“, according to the diplomat.

As Asean chair in 2023 and the region’s largest economy, Indonesia hopes to use its influence to push for COC negotiations and explore new approaches to expedite a successful outcome, said observers.

The Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed that the meeting on the COC for the South China Sea will start next week.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told The Straits Times that delegates from Asean countries and China will attend the meeting, without elaborating.

ST understands that a number of working group meetings and senior official meetings to negotiate the COC are expected to take place in 2023.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, during his two-day visit to Jakarta in February, vowed that Beijing will work with South-east Asia to “jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea”, amid rising tensions in the disputed waters.

At a joint press conference with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Feb 22, Mr Qin said China, Indonesia and the littoral states to the South China Sea will work with other Asean countries “to fully and effectively implement” the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties, which calls for a peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, and speed up consultations on a code of conduct governing it.

Ms Retno told Mr Qin that as Asean chair, Indonesia and Asean are determined to make South-east Asia a peaceful and stable region, as well as a centre of economic growth, reiterating Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s remarks to the region’s foreign ministers in early February that “Asean should not become a proxy for any power”.

Mr Qin expressed support for Asean’s strategic independence, centrality and an inclusive regional architecture. He also noted that a “new Cold War or major country rivalry” should not take place in the Asia-Pacific, and “regional countries should not be forced to pick sides”.

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