ASEAN urged to speed up CoC deal

8:15:00 PM
JAKARTA, -- With the agenda focusing on the advent of the ASEAN Economic Community later this year, members of the grouping of Southeast Asian nations are expected to step up negotiations for the completion of the Code of Conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea territorial disputes, despite conflicting claims still being reviewed by an international tribunal.

The Philippines, which filed a suit with the The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013, has submitted more documents to support its claims and answer the questions raised by the tribunal.

“By December this year, or in the first quarter of next year, we expect a decision from the tribunal,” Justice Antonio T. Carpio, a senior associate of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, told The Jakarta Post in Jakarta recently.

Carpio, who had been touring several countries to discuss the issue, underscored that the Philippines would continue to push for the acceleration of the drafting of the CoC during Malaysia’s ASEAN chairmanship this year.

“I think Malaysia has taken more proactive stances. From what I’ve read recently, Malaysia wants to pursue the drafting during its chairmanship,” he said.

While acknowledging that the arbitration suit had been filed by Manila without the formal green light from ASEAN and its members, the justice rebuffed suggestions that the move could negate the process toward the CoC.

“We cannot rely on the CoC because China is saying it will sign the CoC at the ‘appropriate time’, but we don’t know when that will be. We have to have our own approach,” he said, adding that the Philippines wanted a CoC that incorporated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) dispute settlement mechanism.

“Sad to say, ASEAN has different interests,” Carpio added. “I don’t think any ASEAN country would agree that it should seek consensus before they go to UNCLOS. That is a sovereign right. Consensus means rejection from one ASEAN member is enough to block other members’ right to go to UNCLOS.”

The Philippines has challenged China’s nine-dash line, which encroaches on sea areas of the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam, as well as the Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.

With this demarcation, 80 percent of the Philippines’ western Exclusive Economic Zone is claimed by China, according to Carpio.

Tempers in the region have recently heated up after China reportedly constructed 200-hectare reclamation zones in the disputed areas, with Manila claiming the zones were intended for military bases.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration tribunal filed by the Philippines.

Beijing outlined its arguments against the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

“Its underlying goal is not [...] to seek a peaceful resolution of the South China Sea issue, but rather, by resorting to arbitration, to put political pressure on China, so as to deny China’s lawful rights in the South China Sea through the so-called ‘interpretation or application’ of the Convention,” China’s foreign ministry said as quoted by Reuters.

Xu Hong, head of the ministry’s legal and treaties department, said, “Some people who harbor ulterior motives have made one-sided and misleading readings of the rules of international law and, on that basis, made accusations or insinuations that China does not abide by the law.”

“The Philippines is keenly aware of the importance of addressing the issue through peaceful negotiations. But it still unilaterally initiated a compulsory dispute-settlement procedure. Of course China cannot accept this,” he added.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member Countries map.

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