China sets precondition before formal discussion of COC in November
China has set a precondition before discussion on the Code of Conduct in the South China officially starts in November: no major disruptions from outside parties.
In a press conference at the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting and Related Meetings in Pasay City on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China and the Southeast Asian regional bloc have adopted the framework COC during their meeting.
With the adoption of the framework COC, he said the next step would be the discussion of all the parties on the principles and plan for the next stage of the consultation of the COC.
The meeting will be held by the end of August during the joint working group meeting on the implementation of the Declaration of Code (DOC) of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which was signed by ASEAN and China in 2002.
"We will build a consensus between China and ASEAN countries and with the necessary cooperation for that," Wang said.
The third step, he said, "when the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and if there is no major disruption from outside parties, with that as a precondition, then we will consider during the November leaders' meeting, we will jointly announce the official start of the COC consultations."
Wang did not mention who were the outside parties. But other countries, particularly the United States, have been critical about China's reported militarization in the disputed waters as they have been calling for freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and respect for rule of law.
Despite the July 2016 favorable ruling of an arbitral tribunal to the Philippines and invalidating China's sovereign claim in almost the entire South China Sea, Beijing continues to reject the decision.
It also continues with its activities in the South China Sea where it reclaimed seven shoals and reefs in the area.
In a press conference, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar confirmed the adoption of the framework COC during the ASEAN-China meeting.
He added ASEAN and China leaders are expected to "announce the formal start of negotiations on the code in their summit in November."
However, he did not say China has set a precondition before the formal negotiations commence.
Wang stressed that China and ASEAN "have the ability and wisdom to work together to maintain regional peace and stability.
"We will work out regional rules that would be mutually agreed upon to open up a bright future for our future relations. We are confident that China-ASEAN relations will move from a period of rapid growth to a period of maturity and further to build on that to move toward to a comprehensive strategic partnership," he said.
Wang refused to comment on reports that Vietnam wanted to include in the AMM joint communique strong statement against China's activities in the South China.
Instead, he said he felt that the other ASEAN foreign ministers have "displayed positive attitude, including on the issue of the South China Sea, the foreign ministers recognize the valuable progress that we have made in the past year."
Compared to what happened in Vientiane, Laos last year, he said there is positive momentum now on the South China Sea issue.
As to the kind of the COC that could be produced, Wang said he did not want to prejudge the result of the negotiations.
"Actually on some issues, the ten ASEAN countries, they don't have a consensus yet on some of the issues. One thing is clear, whether it's the 2002 DOC or the COC, all the 11 countries, once they put the signatures on the document, they show responsibilities and they need to observe the document," he said.
As to the bilateral disputes, he cited Article 4 of the DOC, saying they should be addressed directly by the parties involved through dialogue and consultation.
"China and the Philippines have this bilateral consultation mechanism, the first meeting was very good, successful. By the end of this year they have a second meeting. As long as we commit to dialogue and consultation and international law including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), we will be able to stabilize the situation and find a way out," he said. Celerina Monte/DMS