What China’s conduct about the Code of Conduct reveals

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China will keep talks going while strengthening its political, economic and military positions, rendering the South China Sea COC moot.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said last month Beijing hoped consultations with Southeast Asian nations on a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea would be completed in three years, so that it will contribute to enduring peace and stability in the disputed waters.

Li made his comments when in Singapore to attend annual meetings between ASEAN and its partner nations.

China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed August on a working text to continue long drawn-out negotiations over the COC in the South China Sea. The waterway is known as the East Sea in Vietnam.

Some ASEAN members and China have laid overlapping claims to islands in the sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways. In 2002, China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), committing to respect the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

In 2013, two sides started negotiating a COC and approved the framework in August 2017. At the 51th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in Singapore in August this year, ASEAN and China agreed on a single COC text. This was seen as progress in solving disputes in the South China Sea, aimed at a legal binding COC that would de-escalate tension in the sea.

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