Wed, 22 Mar 2023

MANILA - The discussions on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea have been progressing beyond general provisions but talks on the actual rules of engagement are unlikely to happen in the next round of negotiation in March.

"It will continue where they left off, nag-iistart na sila on the main body but it's quite technical (they are starting on the main body but it's quite technical)," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Daniel Espiritu said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

"So far, medyo generalities pa 'yong pinag-uusapan. Hindi pa natin nakikinita na pag-uusapan na 'yong body of the COC which are the actual rules of engagement (So far, discussions are centered on generalities. We don't see talks the body of the COC which are the actual rules of engagement happening soon). We don't know when," he added.

Espiritu said the flow of negotiation had been "very dynamic" given that the parties - the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China - have differing positions, one of the reasons why the two-decade old agreement to establish the code is progressing slowly.

At the end of the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Retreat, Indonesia vowed to lead efforts to "explore new approaches" to speed up the negotiation.

Indonesia, the current ASEAN chair, will host rounds of the COC negotiation, the first of which will be in March 2023.

China and ASEAN agreed to create and adopt the COC upon signing the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea on Nov. 4, 2002.

In explaining the document, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the COC would not resolve the maritime row but merely provide measures or rules of engagement that states could follow to avoid escalation of tensions or untoward incidents in the vital sea lane.

"It will not resolve the dispute, it will not do boundary delimitation," the agency said. (PNA)

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