DFA: Framework on South China Sea code might skip Hague ruling

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
DFA: Framework on South China Sea code might skip Hague ruling

Foreign ministers from 27 countries will gather in the country for the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings to be held on Aug. 2 to 8. Philstar.com, file

MANILA, Philippines — The arbitral ruling that voided China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea might not be mentioned in the framework of the code of conduct for claimants in the maritime row, an official said Tuesday.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said the framework, which is expected to be endorsed by Southeast Asian foreign ministers next week, would be “generic” and would outline the nature of the code of conduct for parties in the dispute.
“It’s an outline, the nature of the code of conduct, what principles govern the behaviors of (the parties). I would think it’s something more generic so there’s no specific mention (of the arbitral ruling),” Bolivar told reporters in Malacañang.
“In broad strokes, definitely, there’s an identification of the legal basis, what are we trying to accomplish in terms of the legal basis, and then the principles of the law of the seas. And then perhaps, a statement on how countries should behave in the region,” he added.
When asked if the legal basis would include the arbitral ruling, Bolivar said: “We will have to see. It’s a negotiation. As mentioned, it’s already part of international jurisprudence.”
Foreign ministers from 27 countries will gather in the country for the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Related Meetings to be held on Aug. 2 to 8 at the Philippine International Convention Center.
The Philippines is the chairman of this year’s summit, which has the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.”
Foreign ministers from the 10-member regional bloc are expected to review the progress and direction of the ASEAN community-building efforts and to exchange views on key issues including the South China Sea dispute.  
China claims about 90 percent of the entire South China Sea but it is being contested by Taiwan and four ASEAN members — Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2002, ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to address maritime disputes peacefully. More than 14 years have passed since the declaration was signed but parties have yet to craft a binding code of conduct.
Philippine officials are optimistic that a framework for the code of conduct would be endorsed this year. The framework was completed last May.

Arbitral ruling

In 2013, the Philippines challenged China’s maritime claim before an international arbitral tribunal, calling it “excessive” and “exaggerated.”
A Hague-based arbitral court ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016, saying China’s maritime claim has no legal basis. China has dismissed the ruling as “illegal since day one” and “a mere piece of paper.”
President Duterte has said he is ready to temporarily set aside the ruling to improve the Philippines’ ties with China.
Duterte excluded the arbitral ruling from the agenda of the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit last April, saying the issue should only be discussed by the Philippines and China. But he vowed to bring up the landmark decision before Chinese leaders within his term.
Bolivar could not say when a binding code of conduct would be completed.
"We don’t want to put a timeframe on that. But definitely, it will begin as soon as the approvals process of the framework is over…Well, this is actually a very big step that we have a framework that will be endorsed by the ministers in a few days,” the Foreign Affairs spokesman said.
“What we’re trying to achieve is more than just binding, it’s an effective code of conduct, one that will be respected and observed by all. We’re hopeful, because of the commitment between the ASEAN and China,” he added.

Joint communiqué will reflect interests of ASEAN, individual nations

Asked if the Philippines’ ties with China would affect the outcome documents of the ASEAN, Bolivar said:
“As chair, our role is to accurately reflect the discussions that will happen around the table.”
“The AMM (ASEAN Ministerial Meeting) is joint communiqué, is a negotiating statement, so all member-states of the ASEAN will have to negotiate that joint communiqué, so it will reflect all the interests of the ASEAN as a grouping and personal, individual interests of the countries,” he added.
Bolivar said a joint working group would meet on the code of conduct once the framework is endorsed.
“There’s definitely an extensive discussion. Whether it’s heated or not, I cannot say,” he said.

North Korea to send representative

Bolivar also confirmed that North Korea foreign minister Ri Yong-ho would be attending the ASEAN Regional Forum next week.
He could not say if North Korea’s missile tests would be discussed during the forum, which would also be participated in by the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.
“We expect an exchange of views on regional and international security issues of concern,” Bolivar said.
“Since the issues you mentioned are a concern for several countries in the region, then we expect a candid and free flow of discussions during that time, on these issues,” he added.
ASEAN foreign ministers urged North Korea to “exercise restraint” in a joint statement issued last April. The regional bloc also reiterated its support for efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Duterte has said China could serve as intercessor between the US and North Korea, stressing that the tension cannot be addressed through violence.

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