China and countries belonging to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed on a new set of rules that will reduce friction involving the South China Sea.
China and ASEAN members yesterday approved the framework of the SCS Code of Conduct, a crucial step towards peacefully resolving territorial disputes in the area.
China and all 10 members of Asean had been hoping to agree this year on the framework, 15 years after committing to draft it.
China claims nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, including islands more than 800 miles from the Chinese mainland, despite objections from neighbours such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
These groups are also involved in crafting the framework for the code of conduct in resolution to the South China Sea maritime dispute.
The agreement was reached during the 14th Chinese and ASEAN senior officials’ meeting on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), co-chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Chee Wee Kiong.
“We are now verifying this information with our relevant agencies”, he said of a report in the Chinese state-run Defense Times that said that China has installed Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm anti-frogman rocket launcher defense systems on Kagitingan Reef to ward off Vietnamese military combat divers.
“I’m sure it will be a very important point of discussion in future consultations”, he said, suggesting that Thursday’s framework agreement is likely a general agreement.
Work on the extraction of natural resources are conducted in other countries, in particular Canada and Japan, but so far only China has managed to extract it from the seabed. ASEAN is now chaired by the Philippines, whose leader Rodrigo Duterte has pursued a bilateral rapprochement with Beijing since being sworn into office in June 2016.
There are more than 40 reef islands in the South China Sea which have been occupied and even garrisoned by other countries.
In a case brought by the Philippines, an global tribunal ruled previous year that Beijing has no historic or legal basis for its sweeping claims. The Philippine government maintained that it owns the territory where Filipino troops and villagers have lived for decades.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest commercial waterways with more than United States dollars 5 trillion worth of world trade shipped through it every year.
At a briefing in Beijing earlier this week, Romana said the sides had “turned a new page” on dealing with their South China Sea issues.