By Roy Mabasa
The draft framework was completed last May during the 14th ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ meeting on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) held in Guiying, China. The consensus was reached ahead of the mid-2017 goal set by the leaders of ASEAN and China.
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Rob Bolivar said all parties agreed on three steps following the adoption of the framework: First, the announcement of the framework at the 50th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and related meetings where it is expected a paragraph with the chairman’s statement to reflect on this;
Second, a meeting to be convened at the end of August to discuss the modalities of the negotiations of the actual COC with the approved framework as the basis for the talks; and
Third, the leaders of ASEAN and China are expected to announce the formal start of negotiations of the COC at the summit in November.
“ASEAN and China will continue to cooperate on such practical maritime cooperation efforts, including management and prevention of conflicts through confidence building measures as well as to prevent miscalculations on the ground,” Bolivar told reporters during a media briefing on the outcomes of the ASEAN post-ministerial meetings.
Earlier, Agence France-Presse reported feuding ASEAN member-nations finding a compromise on how to deal with Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, with Vietnam insisting on a tough stance but Cambodia lobbying hard for Beijing.
“But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language,” one of the diplomats told AFP.
The debates among foreign ministers of the 10-member ASEAN were the latest in years of struggles to deal with competing claims to the strategically vital sea.
The ministers failed to release a customary joint statement after meeting on Saturday because of their differences on the sea issue, and follow-up negotiations the morning after did not end the stand-off, two diplomats involved in the talks told AFP earlier Sunday.
“There’s still no consensus,” one of the diplomats said, adding the disagreements over the wordings on the sea issue were holding up the release of the communique.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters approaching the coasts of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The tense talks came after Vietnam, which also claims parts of the strategically vital sea, insisted that tough language be inserted into the statement expressing concern over Chinese land reclamation in the contested waters.
Cambodia, one of China’s strongest allies within ASEAN, had firmly resisted, according to the diplomats involved in the talks, as well as an excerpt of proposed Cambodian resolution obtained by AFP.
“Vietnam is adamant and China is effectively using Cambodia to champion its interests,” one of the diplomats said.
China has in recent years expanded its presence in the sea by building artificial islands, which are capable of holding military bases.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi disclosed that the 10 ASEAN foreign ministers exhibited a forward-looking perspective towards the contentious issue.
“From what I gathered during my meetings with the 10 ASEAN foreign ministers, what I felt is that they have displayed a positive attitude including on the issue of the South China Sea,” Wang told reporters at a media briefing yesterday.
According to the top Chinese diplomat, the ASEAN foreign ministers “recognized the valuable progress that we have made in the past year.”
“We all recognized that we need to cherish the positive momentum in the South China Sea,” he said. “Actually compared with what happened surrounding the (Vientiane) meeting a year ago, the situation in the South China Sea is different with really tangible progress.”
Earlier, it was reported that Vietnam wanted ASEAN to insist in the statement that the Framework on the COC in the South China Sea with China be “legally binding,” which Beijing opposes.
Regarding what kind of COC will be produced, Wang said that is up to the discussion by the 11 parties – China and the ASEAN member countries.
“We don’t want to prejudge the result of that negotiations,” he pointed out. “Actually on some issues, the 10 ASEAN countries they don’t have a consensus yet on some of the issues,” he added.
On the bilateral disputes, Wang noted that according to Article 4 of the Declaration on a COC in the South China Sea, these should be addressed directly by parties involved through dialogue and consultations.
“China and the Philippines have this bilateral consultation mechanism, the first meeting was very good, sucesssful. By the end of this year they have a second meeting,” he said. “As long as we commit to dialogue and consultation and international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of th Seas, we will be able to stabilize the situation and find a way out.”
Wang further revealed that he also had an in-depth discussion with the 10 ASEAN foreign ministers during the ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting held at the PICC in Pasay City.
He said during the meeting, the Chinese side put forward several initiatives on future cooperation between China and ASEAN which have been warmly and responded and supported by all 10 ASEAN countries.
Wang said the first initiative was to formulate a China-ASEAN strategic partnership vision 2030 to draw a blueprint for the next stage of their bilateral relations.
The second was to create a synergy between China’s Belt and Road initiative and the ASEAN master plan on connectivity so as to expand the areas of cooperation.
The third initiative aims to designate next year as the China-ASEAN innovation year. This is to synchronize China’s innovation-driven development strategy and ASEAN innovation-driven growth strategy.
Fourth is to get the upgraded China-ASEAN free trade area to deliver more results at an early date.
The fifth aims to comprehensively implement the China-ASEAN joint statement on production capacity cooperation agreed upon yesterday. According to Wang, this is to leverage the respective strengths of China and ASEAN and to support each other’s industrialization process.
Finally, China put forward an initiative to build a pillar of people-to-people cultural exchange to ensure the success of China-ASEAN tourism cooperation.
China, likewise, is pushing for a joint statement on tourism cooperation to solidify the population support in social basis for cooperation. (With a report from Agence France-Presse)