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South China Sea
China and ASEAN Near a Code of Conduct?

Details are still emerging, but it looks like China and ASEAN have taken another step toward an understanding on the South China Sea, agreeing to a framework on a maritime code of conduct. Reuters:

After a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the Chinese city of Guiyang, China’s foreign ministry said the framework had been agreed upon, although it gave no details of its contents. […]

All parties “uphold using the framework of regional rules to manage and control disputes, to deepen practical maritime cooperation, to promote consultation on the code and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea”, it added.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhemin, in comments carried on state television, said the framework was comprehensive and took into account the concerns of all sides.

But he called on others to stay out, apparently a coded message to the United States.

“We hope that our consultations on the code are not subject to any outside interference,” Liu said.

China and ASEAN have been promising (and failing to achieve) a code of conduct for the past 15 years, so it may be premature to tout this as an achievement before the ink is dry. But the Chinese are already stating that the framework could be finalized by August, and they would probably not be raising expectations if a some kind of viable deal wasn’t at least within reaching.

As for China’s sharp rhetoric warning against external interference, it may well get its wish. The Philippines, which is chairing ASEAN this year, has lately been echoing Beijing’s line warning Washington to stay out of the South China Sea dispute. And the Trump administration has so far been missing in action, letting Beijing take the lead on bilateral talks taking a hands-off approach where the Obama administration got heavily involved.

Under these circumstances, China may try to seize the opportunity and wrap up these negotiations. The code of conduct will not be legally binding but will count as a diplomatic coup, demonstrating that China and its neighbors can resolve their differences just fine without Washington’s help.

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  • Dhako

    Now you finally getting to read the “real strategical and political script” that really tells the true reality of the ASEAN states. Which means, after all the huff and puff by the US (specially by Obama’s Administration), the reality is that, these states (even Vietnam, which doesn’t see eye-to-eye with China) have much more to gain from cooperating with China than antagonizing her. Hence, as I kept telling you, soon or later, these states will experience that “Come-To-Jesus” moment in the sense of understanding that, Geopolitically speaking, the US is non-factor in this region of theirs. Which means, they will be better off in coming to a “comprehensive understanding” with China than forever hope that Uncle Sam will have one day enough of a “skin” in their quarrel with China. And this realization that Uncle Sam will not be sending any naval cavalry on their behalf in-order to make a good on the claim these states have in the South-China-Sea (SCS) has finally convinced them that they are better off in “reaching” a deal with China on this issue than to hope Uncle Sam will do it for them. Lets hope you will continue to keep reading the “real political and strategical script” that really informs the lived-experience of this region, instead of reading forever the usual wishful thinking about this region, which exist in the Washington’s Belt-Way.

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