ASEAN, China hopeful for ‘substantially completed’ COC in 2018

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

July 31, 2018, 10:15 pm

MANILA-- The Philippines, alongside China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed optimism that the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) will be "substantially completed" within 2018.

"The hope is that by November, when our leaders meet, we will have it," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters before leaving for the 51st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore.

"In terms of attitude as soon as possible, in terms of actual as we aspire for a deadline as soon as possible for this year, but if we have to make an educated guess, it could be anytime towards the end of the year or next year until we actually have a COC that I think will satisfy everyone," the official added.

He said, however, that Singapore, the 2018 ASEAN chairman, already asked Beijing and the regional bloc to mitigate their expectations because a COC approved by all parties "is not that easy to come out."

While he called the ongoing discussions as a “sign of progress”, Cayetano admitted that the negotiation process is slow since talks are held multilaterally.

"Even the framework itself just the framework, the negotiation was exhaustive but then if you look at what the framework is to many people, they may say, "that's all?,” he said.

He called on the public to understand that the negotiation takes time.

In the past meetings, he said the parties agreed to start drafting a document which contains points that the ASEAN and China could agree on.

"The problem with the negotiation of the COC (is) anyone can throw in a deal breaker then we don't have an agreement. We have to take advantage of the fact that in the past, there were regional players and claimants, etc. who were not bullish about the COC, now everyone is," he said, but did not go into details about the ongoing negotiations.

For more than a decade, China and ASEAN have reaffirmed their commitment to work towards the early adoption of the COC. But it was only during the 20th ASEAN-China Summit in the Philippines in November last year that development on the document began to move forward.

China, Taiwan and some ASEAN member states including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

During the ASEAN Foreign Minister's Retreat in February 2018, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan admitted that the COC negotiation will be "very complicated" and will require all parties to "ultimately exercise political will" to resolve sensitive issues, adding that territorial claims will not be resolved with the COC alone. (PNA)