Indonesia seeks assurances from China on code of conduct for South China Sea

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on May 13, 2017.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on May 13, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia has asked China to make good on its promise to conclude by mid-year the ongoing negotiations on a framework for a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea (SCS), as Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi met her counterpart Wang Yi in the Chinese capital.

Retno met Wang in Beijing on Saturday (May 13) to discuss various issues of common concern, including the SCS debate, wherein Indonesia is not a claimant but acts as an honest broker.

"One of the issues that will definitely be tabled by the foreign ministers is what to do next to expedite the process of the post-COC framework negotiations," ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said.

Asean and China are currently in the final stages of finalising a framework for a COC, an instrument that aims to prevent open conflict in the disputed waters.

Negotiations over the code have persisted for the better part of 15 years, after an Asean-China non-binding agreement was introduced in 2002 to discourage hostile acts in the SCS.

Both parties finally agreed to use a shared draft framework during negotiations in Bali in February and made significant progress in a subsequent meeting in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in April.

Asean and Chinese diplomats plan to convene another meeting in Guiyang, China, later this month with an eye towards concluding the COC framework by midyear.

"Last year China made a commitment to revitalise negotiations so that the COC framework could be agreed upon by the middle of this year. We are nearing the end of this process, so we truly hope it will be done," said Arrmanatha.

Jakarta is now thinking about the next step, he said, and stressed that it would seek Beijing's commitment to a clear timeline for the earliest conclusion of the COC.

China is not a member of Asean, but has made sweeping claims over the SCS, through which US$5 trillion in seaborne trade passes each year.

Asean member states Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam have more or less agreed to negotiate with China bilaterally over their competing claims in the sea, but Beijing has been extremely sensitive about objections to its expansion activities there or any mention of the international tribunal ruling that outlawed its claims last year.

Asean published a non-confrontational statement on the issue during the Asean Summit in Laos last year and has since published similar statements.

Asean chair, the Philippines, which won an international tribunal case against China last year, issued a neutral statement on the South China Sea in April, while another one was published earlier this month after an Asean-United States special foreign ministers meeting in Washington.

Besides consultations on regional issues, Retno is also expected to discuss efforts to strengthen Indonesia's bilateral mechanisms with China, as well as follow up on a few "pending issues" from a previous meeting between the two countries' heads of state last November.

"The main issue the foreign minister will follow up on has to do with the 2017-2021 Plan of Action that is meant to implement Indonesia's comprehensive strategic partnership with China," the spokesman said.

Arrmanatha said both foreign ministers would also discuss the North Korean issue, with Indonesia focusing on China's contribution to maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Meanwhile, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to strengthen a comprehensive strategic partnership during the former's attendance of the Boao Forum for Asia Conference in 2015.

Jokowi and Xi are slated to meet again on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Sunday and Monday.