Analyst: ASEAN should demand legally binding S. China Sea code of conduct

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 13) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must "move faster" in demanding a legally binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, a political expert said Monday.

Claims over the disputed waters must be settled based on international law, Dindo Manhit, De La Salle University political science professor and president of East Asia think tank Stratbase ADRi, told CNN Philippines on Monday.

"I hope that the Philippines can take this as an opportunity that, based on our Constitution, we see ourselves as pushing a certain code of conduct that is legally binding, that is meaningful, to ensure the stability of the region that will allow the freedom to move around in the sea lanes," he said.

 

A legally binding COC will mean parties who violate the code may be held accountable for their actions.

Manhit's statement came after President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday that the South China sea issue "is better left untouched." The President emphasized that cooperation not confrontation is the way forward.

Read: Duterte: South China Sea issue 'better left untouched'

On Monday's agenda at the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings is the 20th ASEAN-China Summit, a meeting among the 10 ASEAN member states and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Read: 31st ASEAN Summit officially opens

The ASEAN-China Summit is expected to "announce the start of the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Read: ASEAN Sec Gen: China, ASEAN may announce start of COC negotiations Monday

But the Philippines, as this year's ASEAN chair, took "a few steps backward" on this issue, said Manhit.

"We've all known that 1997, this has been discussed," he said. "2002, a big step happened, a declaration of conduct. Then, we go back now to a framework of how to conduct ourselves as nation-states."

A framework for the COC was adopted by ASEAN foreign ministers and China in August 2017.

Read: ASEAN, China adopt framework for South China Sea code of conduct

However, experts are skeptical about it, saying that a COC would take a long time to formulate and will depend on China's commitment.

Read: Experts doubt ASEAN, China will reach Code of Conduct on South China Sea during summit

Manhit also said U.S. President Donald Trump's offer to mediate in the South China Sea dispute is a "welcome development."

Read: ASEAN to concentrate on code of conduct amid Trump's mediation offer

"But it has to be based on the International Court of Arbitration award that we have received a year ago," he said.

Manhit was pertaining to the July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines' position that China's "nine-dash line" maritime claim is excessive and encroached into the Philippines' 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Read: PH wins maritime arbitration case vs. China

The "nine-dash line" is China's purported historical boundary that covers about 85 percent of the South China Sea, including 80 percent of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.