Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo (PNA photo by Jess Escaros Jr.)

MANILA – Negotiations on a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea will resume next year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Thursday.

Manalo said talks were stalled for at least two years due to the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

"They will most likely continue again next year. In fact, the talks, the negotiations actually, not just talks, are actually taking place on a regular schedule," he said in a CNN interview. "The problem is when Covid came, there was a two-year gap in the negotiations because there were no in-person meetings, but they are now continuing."

At least two or three rounds of negotiations are expected to take place in 2023, Manalo said.

He expressed hope that talks could conclude in one or two years but admitted that "technical issues" are a challenge to the negotiations.

"It's quite a technical exercise because it would really be a code. What's important in our point of view is that it should be substantive and effective," Manalo said. "My hope is in one or two years but just another issue is, of course, this involves negotiations amongst 11 countries. All I can say is we will do our best to conclude it at the earliest possible time."

Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretary General Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi last month said China and the bloc are working on the COC's second draft. (PNA)