Wednesday, December 9, 2020

China eager for South China Sea Code of Conduct, talks to progress

Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will hold the 14th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) and the seventh ADMM Plus via video from December 9-10 via video link. The meetings will be focused on enhancing practical defense cooperation and fighting against COVID-19 among member states.

All eyes are on whether there will be progress in establishing a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea, especially after the recently-signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a landmark achievement of East Asian regional cooperation.

The South China Sea COC, recognized as an upgraded and strengthened version of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea (DOC) signed by China and ASEAN countries in 2002, outlines the most important principles in the management of disputes in the waters.

Consultations for the COC were launched by the two sides in 2013, aimed at safeguarding peace and stability in the region. The talks have been speeding up in recent years and the draft text of the COC was completed in August 2018.

Though COC consultations have been suspended due to COVID-19 pandemic this year, China remains firmly committed and determined to conclude the COC consultations at an early date.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called on all parties at the recent 23rd China-ASEAN Summit to overcome the impact of COVID-19 and accelerate the consultations. "China will positively consider convening face-to-face consultations in China, as soon as the COVID-19 situation allows, to advance the second reading of the COC," he said.

As an upgraded version of the DOC, the COC will be a more substantive, effective and operable document that provides further institutional safeguards for peace and stability in the South China Sea, he added.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also vowed that South China Sea COC consultations won't be disrupted by outside interference and highlighted how China and ASEAN members have made progress in areas of cooperation like maritime search and rescue, marine environmental protection, marine scientific research and other fields.

The development of cooperation in various areas has further laid the groundwork for South China Sea COC consultations and promoted the process, as well as the relations between China and the ASEAN members.

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