MANILA, Philippines—The countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will speak as one to convince China to negotiate a binding agreement on conduct in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a stand that was reached after initial discord on the contentious issue.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Saturday ministers of the 10-member bloc have agreed to collectively encourage China to sit down and discuss the long-delayed completion of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the West Philippine Sea, legally binding guidelines that would govern the disputed waters.
“With solidarity and in speaking with one voice, Asean has taken the position that it will urge China to agree to an expeditious conclusion of the COC,” said Del Rosario in a text message Saturday.
Del Rosario joined fellow Asean ministers in a two-day meeting at the Hua Hin resort town in Thailand on Aug. 14 and 15, discussions preparatory to Asean’s meeting with China on the COC at the end of the month.
The talks to be held in Beijing would follow through on the willingness China had signified to the Asean during ministerial meetings in Brunei in June, where Beijing agreed to discuss the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
Del Rosario earlier said the Philippines and Vietnam would work together to convince Asean to take a singular stand toward China, particularly in calling for negotiations instead of mere consultations on the COC which are envisioned to upgrade the “watered down” and nonbinding DOC.
The Asean position reached in Thailand is a positive shift from earlier disagreements on the matter, punctuated last year by the bloc’s failure to issue a joint communique on the territorial dispute under the chairmanship of Cambodia, a known ally of China.—Tarra Quismundo