Progress made on South China Sea code of conduct

Still image from a United States Navy video purportedly shows Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands

China and the Philippines are trying out a new system to help them solve territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

"One reason is we will continue our consultation, and the other reason is we don't want to see any interference with our future consultations", Liu explained while adding that all parties have vowed to continue to constructively advance the negotiations toward the early conclusion of the COC.

The proposal follows remarks by President Rodrigo Duterte that China was installing "some kind of armed garrison" on the disputed South China Sea islands it claims. "They exchanged views on current and other issues of concern to either side, and agreed to further discuss mutually acceptable approaches to deal with them", the statement said, adding that discussions also tackled the next steps for practical marine cooperation and the possible forming of technical working groups. The Philippines, meanwhile, says it will not invoke its legal victory for the time being and will focus on improving mutual trust and confidence. Under the BCM, officials from the respective foreign ministries and maritime affairs agencies will meet alternately in China and the Philippines once every six months.

The next meeting will be held in the Philippines in the second half of this year.

That change of tack earned Duterte a state visit to China in October previous year, when he met with Xi.

Last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China's claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, in a case filed on maritime boundaries filed by the previous Philippine government in 2013.

China violated its sovereign rights of the Philippines in its economic zones including the Scarborough Shoal and the Reed Bank, a large tablemount (underwater mountain) rich in oil and gas deposits.

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But China has allowed Philippine fishing boats into the area since last October.

Senior officials from China and member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have finalized a draft framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

He said this is a welcome development as both bilateral and multilateral efforts to resolve issues can be "mutually reinforcing for peace, stability and security". The DOC was essentially a compromise between the two positions of doing nothing and having a legally-binding agreement.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano played down the importance of a legally binding contract.

But he stressed that while it was crafted under the principles and spirit of the "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea", there will eventually be an "enhanced version" of the declaration.

"The ASEAN countries known they can't fight the Chinese or count on America so it's best to work with China to stabilize the status quo", Huang said. But I'm saying let's start with it being a binding, gentlemen's agreement.

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