ASEAN more determined to finalize COC in South China Sea

By Sammy F. Martin

BORACAY Island, Aklan, Feb. 20 (PNA) -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is more resolute to finalize a Code of Conduct(COC) in the South China Sea (SCS).

"There is more determination now to proceed and try and finalize a Code of Conduct, perhaps through coming up with a framework as soon as possible and then proceeding to hopefully actual negotiations on a Code of Conduct. So work is expected to be even more intense this year," Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo said in a press briefing after the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat at the Alta Vista Hotel here on Monday.

Manalo noted that ASEAN was "concerned on the developments in the South China Sea" and wanted to defuse the tension, referring to recent developments in the disputed area.

"Those are issues which will probably be involved in any negotiation of the framework, and I'm quite sure that all those factors will be taken into account by all the countries concerned," he said.

Manalo explained that ASEAN officials "haven't discussed yet the elements of a framework," but many ideas about these elements have already surfaced.

He cited Article 5 of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

The DOC states that parties should "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability" in the disputed waters.

The DOC, however, is a non-binding document.

The COC, meanwhile, is supposed to be a binding document to ensure peace and stability in the SCS, parts of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

Other countries involved in a territorial dispute in the SCS are Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

ASEAN and China aim to finalize the COC framework this year.

The ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting will be held here on Tuesday, February 21, as the Philippines chairs ASEAN this year.