China Set for Easy Ride From Asean on Disputed South China Sea

China 'seals off' Yellow Sea for 2nd large-scale naval drill in fortnight

The foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China officially approved the draft framework of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) on August 6 in Manila, the Philippines.

In his statement delivered during the plenary session, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano pointed out that the single characteristic that makes ASEAN unique and admirable is the ability to peacefully settle regional disputes and on regional cooperation which he described as "the best if not the surest means of achieving peace".

Wang made these remarks after he and ASEAN foreign ministers on Sunday adopted the framework of a COC in the South China Sea.

Philippine foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the ministers were divided over a USA proposal to suspend the North from the ASEAN Regional Forum, which will hold its annual meeting on Monday.

A legally binding and enforceable code of conduct has been a goal for Asean's claimant members - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - since a 2002 pact to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight and leave rocks and reefs uninhabited.

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Even when its claims to South China Sea may be legitimate, Vietnam finds itself isolated in the ASEAN regional forum.

With India marking the 25th year of its ties with the ASEAN, he said, "On our 25th anniversary, the flower of our relationship, which spans thirty dialogue mechanisms including an annual summit and seven ministerial dialogues, is in full blossom, with the strategic, political, economic and cultural petals aglow".

Malaysia also pushed for some tougher language, including with a reference to "military assets" in the contested waters, according to the draft and discussions with diplomats involved in the discussions.

The communiqué did not mention China, which has been documented to have undertaken large-scale reclamation and improvement works on man-made islands in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, under previous president Benigno Aquino, had been one of the most vocal critics of China and filed a case before a UN-backed tribunal.

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Under the DOC, dispute resolution will be through "friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned", a position that China stressed in late July by telling ASEAN countries to keep regional outsiders from interfering in disputes.

China has in recent years also successfully lobbied other ASEAN nations, particularly Cambodia, to support its diplomatic manoeuvring in the dispute.

The move will be the first step of the pragmatic negotiation process for the effective and legally-binding COC, contributing to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also set to meet Duterte on the sidelines of the event, with those talks expected to cover the Philippine president's controversial drug war that has claimed thousands of lives.

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