MANILA • Representatives from Asean and China have started meeting in the Philippine capital to kick off 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.
"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."
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 hot lines 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 Aug 6 meeting. 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.
Meanwhile, China yesterday urged Vietnam to take a calm and rational view of its "routine annual exercises" in the north-western part of the South China Sea, after Vietnam expressed opposition.
"The relevant sea is under China's jurisdiction," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
She added that Beijing had the right to carry out such exercises in the waters there.
"We hope the relevant side can calmly and rationally view it."
Vietnam was deeply concerned about the exercises in the Gulf of Tonkin area, at the north end of the South China Sea, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Thi Thu Hang had said in a statement.
"Vietnam proposes China to cease and refrain from repeating acts that complicate the situation in the East Sea," Mr Hang said, using Vietnam's name for the South China Sea.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS