Senior Asean and Chinese officials made “headway” this week by completing negotiations on the draft framework for the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the contested South China Sea.
Officials, who met in Guiyang, China on Thursday, said the negotiations wrapped ahead of the mid-year target.
“This draft CoC framework will be submitted to the Foreign Ministers for consideration,” they said in a joint statement issued at the end of the meet.
The statement said the draft framework includes elements which parties have agreed upon and will provide guidance as a base for consultation on the CoC.
“We hope to continue the positive momentum of consultations and make steady progress towards a substantive CoC based on consensus as directed by our leaders,” the statement read.
It noted that the South China Sea issue was discussed and officials were encouraged that there had been no major disruptions in the past few months, when the situation in the region had become more stable.
The proposed CoC seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which commits to following the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, and refraining from the action of inhabiting currently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features.
The sea, which has rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits, is subject to overlapping claims by four Asean countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. China and Taiwan are the two non-Asean claimant countries.
The Joint Working Group on the CoC will hold its next meeting in September in the Philippines.
An Asean official said Thursday’s meeting signalled the first step towards the establishment of the CoC.
“China is not giving any timeline to establish the CoC at this point in time,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.