DFA bares breakthrough in Code of Conduct in South China Sea

The Philippines, its fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and China have begun to tackle several details regarding the future Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday, July 28.

DFA-ASEAN Affairs Asec. Daniel Espiritu (Noel Pabalate/MANILA BULLETIN)

DFA ASEAN Affairs Asec. Daniel Espiritu said ​"​there is already a sort of agreement​"​ among ASEAN countries and China on what to do during certain situations in the disputed water to avoid escalation of tension.

​"It's ​more on specific situations that may happen in the ​S​outh ​C​hina ​S​ea​. ​not exactly rights​,​ but let​'​s say unexpected encounters​:​ What if two naval vessels meet each other? ​What if a coast guard vessel goes near a certain ​feature?" Espiritu disclosed in a press conference.

"These are now microcosmic issues that are no l​on​ger covered by ​UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)​—still covered by ​UNCLOS​ but not specifically​," he added.

For the DFA official, this development was a breakthrough considering that efforts to craft a Code of Conduct have been around for almost two decades.

​"W​hatever slow p​ro​gress we​'​re making right now is already quite a signi​ficant progress​," he added.

​Starting July 30, representatives from all the ASEAN nations as well as from some "external" countries will be meeting in Cambodia for the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers​'​ Meeting (AMM)​.​

While concerns about the South China Sea are expected to be tackled, negotiations have already started and "are continuing."

After coming up with a preamble last year—which stemmed from the Philippines' chairmanship of negotiations—Espiritu said concerned parties are now discussing the general provisions of the Code of Conduct.

And hopefully in the next few months, he added, the mechanics will already be available.

​"E​very line has to be agreed on by consensu​s​. And ​C​hina is there​,​ and all 10​ ASEAN​ countries are there​,​ and we have to be very careful about this​," he said.​

"This will engage later on rules on engagement, which could have impact on sovereign rights and sovereign right issues, and so we cannot be doing all of these in haste and regret things afterwards," he added.