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Jakarta Post

ASEAN-China code of conduct key to regional stability: Kerry

  • Margareth S. Aritonang

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 18, 2014   /  09:50 am

Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry reminded leaders on Monday that the future stability of Asia Pacific would depend on the efforts by China and Southeast Asian countries in drawing up a code of conduct (CoC) for conflict prevention and resolution on maritime claims.

For the past couple of years, China and ASEAN have engaged in stiff negotiations over the CoC '€” a binding instrument to help prevent military conflict in the dispute over the resource-rich South China Sea, which involves China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

'€œIt'€™s not an exaggeration to say that the region'€™s future stability will depend in part on the success and timeliness of efforts to produce a code of conduct,'€ Kerry said.

'€œThe longer the process takes, the longer the tension will simmer and the greater the chance of miscalculation by somebody that could trigger a conflict that is in nobody'€™s interest,'€ he said in a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa at the Foreign Ministry on Monday.

Kerry and Marty attended an annual US-Indonesia joint-commission meeting on a comprehensive partnership, which comprises issues relating to democracy, security, trade and investment, education, climate change and energy.

Marty reaffirmed Indonesia'€™s commitment to promoting a peaceful settlement in the South China Sea row.

'€œWe have had a very good and productive process of managing the potential conflicts in the South China Sea. This is not an issue without diplomatic pathways,'€ Marty said.

'€œNothing has broken out there except the need for all of us to come up with a code of conduct, sooner rather than later,'€ he emphasized, saying that he had raised the need to speed up discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on a number of occasions.

Although Indonesia is not a claimant country in the dispute, it has attempted to play the honest broker to advocate a peaceful solution.

The United States has praised Indonesia'€™s leading role in advancing negotiations to resolve the disputes.

'€œI was in Beijing just two days ago where I discussed the United States'€™ growing concern over a pattern of behavior in which maritime claims were being resorted to in the East China and South China Seas,'€
Kerry said.

He cited as examples China'€™s move in restricting access to the Scarborough Shoal, or Scarborough Reef, as well as fishing in disputed areas in the South China Sea.

The Scarborough Shoal is a shoal located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon Island in Philippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea. Tensions between China and the Philippines have been high since 2012, following the apprehension of eight Chinese fishing vessels in the disputed area by the
Philippine navy.

Relations between Washington and Beijing heated up after US navy commander Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the US would aid the Philippines in the conflict with China over the disputed waters.

In response to Greenert'€™s comment, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying blasted the US for taking sides on the territorial sovereignty issue, emphasizing that, '€œthe US is not a concerned party in the South China Sea'€.

China has bristled at what it sees as US interference in its backyard, and has reluctantly agreed to open consultations with ASEAN on the CoC. However, China has also lobbied several ASEAN members to prevent the CoC from being realized.

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