China and the 10 member of the ASEAN grouping have agreed to a framework of a legally binding code of conduct aimed at preventing disputes in the strategic South China Sea. Though the draft of the framework has been finalised, no details about the text of the framework agreement has been released. Also, no date has been given on which the full code of conduct is set to be adopted by the parties. However, all the parties have agreed to continue to constructively advance the negotiations and work towards the early conclusion of the code of conduct.
China and the ASEAN members had committed to sign a code of conduct around 15 years ago. But the pace of the negotiations was slow as China claimed the South China in its entirety. ASEAN members like Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei also maintain claims in the South China Sea. In the absence of the code of conduct, each country followed a separate document called the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), which has a provision committing parties to explore ways to build trust and confidence based on the principles of equality and mutual respect. Last year, China was enraged by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in Hague, the Netherlands, which in its ruling has rejected China’s claims to economic rights across large swathes of South China Sea in a case brought by the Philippines.
10 ASEAN Members: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
South China Sea
South China Sea is part of Pacific Ocean spreading an area of some 35 lakh square km with eight littoral countries / territories viz. China, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam. It is strategically located in the international shipping route that sees the passage of world’s half of the merchant ships. The sea is rich in energy reserves including petroleum, mineral and fishing resources. It is made of some 200 tiny islands, coral reefs, shoals, sandbanks etc. grouped into three archipelagos of Spratlys, Paracels and Pratas. The Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal are also part of South China Sea. Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the South China Sea. Such disputes have been regarded as Asia’s most potentially dangerous point of conflict.