Philippines hints at compromise on South China Sea code of conduct

  • The Philippines on 29 Oct 18 said a set of rules intended to prevent conflict in the South China Sea need not legally compel countries to follow it – an issue of importance for the Chinese government.
  • Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. raised this possibility during a joint news conference with Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, in Davao City where they held bilateral talks to firm up preparations for President Xi Jinping’s visit to Manila in Nov 18.
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China are negotiating a code of conduct in the South China Sea. The 10-member bloc wants it to be legally binding, but Beijing prefers just “binding,” ASEAN diplomats have said.
  • “Perhaps, we will not be able to arrive at a legally binding COC, but it will be a standard on how people of ASEAN and governments of ASEAN will behave with each other – always with honor, never with aggression, and always for mutual progress,” Locsin said.
  • Locsin, the former Philippine ambassador to the United Nations, argued that the Philippines too made a compromise when countries in Europe rejected a legally binding treaty on migrant protection.
  • “So, the best thing we could do is to say, ‘Fine, it is not legally binding, but is a standard of conduct for how civilized we should treat migrants’,” he said.
  • Philippines acts as the official bridge between ASEAN and China after assuming the rotating role of country coordinator in Aug 18. Manila will hold that job until 2021, and comes as the country enjoys revitalized ties with China under President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.
  • Wang said China will abide by the code whether it is legally binding or not. He said China hopes to finish the negotiations before Manila’s term as ASEAN-China coordinator ends.

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