Start of CoC negotiations on horizon: Minister
The Jakarta Post
Ten ASEAN member countries and China are expected to launch negotiations on Monday for a long-delayed maritime code-of-conduct (CoC) that will govern how countries should interact with one another in the disputed South China Sea, Indonesia’s top diplomat said ahead of a key meeting between the partners.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi revealed late on Sunday that ASEAN’s focus for the ASEAN-China Summit on Monday was to begin negotiations on the CoC in the South China Sea.
“We already have the framework of the [CoC] in the bag, so it’s time for us now to start the negotiations,” Retno told The Jakarta Post after a bilateral meeting between Indonesia and Japan in Manila.
The minister said the announcement for the start of negotiations would be part of a statement, but fell short of saying which one.
The ASEAN-China Summit, just like all other ASEAN+1 meetings, will issue an ASEAN chairman’s statement at its conclusion.
In the draft of the ASEAN chairman’s statement for the 20th ASEAN-China Summit, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, leaders announced that “as a next step,” both sides would “officially commence negotiations on the CoC.”
The push for earnest talks on the CoC comes 15 years after the adoption of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct by ASEAN and China, which stipulated that both parties demonstrate goodwill by engaging in trust-building activities that aim to soften rivalry among claimant states.
China has made sweeping claims over the South China Sea, through which a significant amount of sea trade flows each year.
The claims, which Beijing has used as a basis for militarization of maritime features in the disputed waters, are contested by ASEAN members Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Indonesia is a non-claimant in the dispute, but has been dragged into the fray after a move to rename Indonesian waters adjacent to the South China Sea angered the Chinese side.
However, following the adoption of the framework of the CoC by ASEAN and China in August, the sea that makes up Southeast Asia’s backyard has become significantly calmer.
Another paragraph in the leaked chairman’s statement noted that the leaders agreed to continue to build confidence through practical maritime cooperation. China, as ASEAN’s largest trading partner in 2016, has set a target of US$1 trillion in two-way trade with the bloc by 2020. (ebf)
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