PH working on resumption of talks on South China Sea Code of Conduct – Locsin

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 15) — Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. said Tuesday he will work on the resumption of negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea despite challenges brought by the pandemic.

The Philippines is country coordinator for the talks for a Code of Conduct, which will determine the only allowable actions countries can take in the South China Sea.

“I declared that as China Coordinator I will push through to the 2nd Draft and get started on the 3rd before handing the China Coordinatorship to my brother Myanmar,” Locsin said on Twitter. “That is what I am honor bound to do.”

In a separate statement, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said this was among the issues raised during last week's ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting led by Locsin and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

“It is imperative to bring everyone back to the negotiating table to demonstrate to the world that we are sincerely committed and determined to arrive at a conclusive result, one way or the other; but we must get down to sincere and serious work,” Locsin said as quoted in his department’s statement.

He noted that COVID-19, which has infected more than 29 million people worldwide and forced countries to limit travel and movement, has disrupted the scheduled face-to-face meetings for the Code of Conduct.

ASEAN has been pushing for a legally-binding code for decades. But critics have noted the slow progress in the talks due to resistance from China, which claims almost the entire global waterway.

READ: Beijing calls for resumption of talks for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea

Meanwhile, aside from the Philippines, other ASEAN member states such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have competing claims in the resource-rich waters.

ASEAN foreign ministers in a September 9 joint communiqué emphasized the need “to maintain and promote an environment conducive to the COC negotiations, and thus welcomed practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings and miscalculation.”

The foreign ministers also reaffirmed the need for non-militarization and self-restraint as they raised concerns on the land reclamations, activities, and other “serious incidents” that have increased tension in the contested region.

In a separate video conference last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the 10-member ASEAN to stand up against Beijing’s “aggressive actions” and quit doing business with Chinese companies that Washington had blacklisted for involvement in illegal activities in the South China Sea.

READ: PH, China defense chiefs agree to 'amicably' settle sea disputes amid US plea to ASEAN

While the US does not claim any part of the South China Sea, it conducts freedom of navigation operations and calls Beijing’s sweeping claims as “unlawful.”

ASEAN has not publicly responded to Pompeo’s statement, but the Philippine government said all its deals with Chinese companies will proceed as planned. This was welcomed by the Chinese government, which commended President Rodrigo Duterte’s "independent foreign policy."

Duterte has nurtured friendship with China despite its continued rejection of the Philippines' arbitration win, wherein an international tribunal in The Hague recognized Manila's sovereign rights to areas within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone that Beijing contests.

Amid the pandemic, the Philippines filed several diplomatic protests against Beijing's "illegal" actions, including Chinese Coast Guard's confiscation of Filipino fishermen's devices and issuance of radio challenges at aircraft conducting regular patrols in the West Philippine Sea. China hit back, saying these are "illegal provocations" that the Philippines should stop. Both sides maintain they "agreed to disagree" on the arbitral ruling and other issues to pursue cooperation.