Jakarta seeking Beijing pledge on S. China Sea rules

Asean, Chinese diplomats to meet at end of this week on the regional code of conduct

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

JAKARTA • 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, an Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman said, as its Foreign Minister, Ms Retno Marsudi, met her counterpart, Mr Wang Yi, in Beijing on Saturday.

Ms Retno met Mr Wang to discuss various issues of common concern, including the South China Sea debate, said Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir.

Eager to prevent a dangerous escalation in maritime disputes, Asean is determined to finalise the framework of a COC with China before the end of the year.

The COC is meant to be a legally binding set of rules to manage disputes in the South China Sea.

The 10-member Asean is in the concluding stages of finalising a framework for a COC with China.

Beijing is claiming nearly all of the South China Sea, in clear contention with the other claimants to the area - Taiwan and Asean member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

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 South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in seaborne trade passes each year.

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.

At the meeting between Mr Wang and Ms Retno, the Chinese Foreign Minister told his Indonesian counterpart that China and Indonesia - both big developing countries with extensive common interests - should jointly strive for regional peace, stability and prosperity, Xinhua news agency reported.

The meeting was held just before the Belt and Road Initiative forum in Beijing.

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

"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 Mr Arrmanatha.

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

Beijing has been extremely sensitive about objections to its expansion activities in the area 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's chair, the Philippines, which won an international tribunal case against China last year, issued a neutral statement on the South China Sea last month, while another one was published earlier this month after an Asean-United States special foreign ministers meeting in Washington.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta seeking Beijing pledge on S. China Sea rules'. Subscribe