[ANALYSIS] Will boat sinking put pressure on ASEAN Summit?



China’s unsafe and dangerous navigation in the South China Sea will be under the spotlight at this weekend’s gathering of 10 Southeast Asian leaders in Bangkok, where the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit will try to come up with a single and common draft on a formal Code of Conduct in the area.

Since the late 1990s, ASEAN has been persuading China and claimant-states in the regional bloc to draw up a rules-based code of conduct to guide each country on how they should behave and act in the South China Sea. The waters are believed to hold rich deposits of oil and gas and to be a major source of maritime products. An estimated $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods also pass this body of water every year.

China claims almost entirely the South China Sea, delineating its borders by an imaginary nine-dash line. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have conflicting claims.

In 2002, ASEAN and China signed an informal code, called Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), but it remained not fully implemented, particularly the agreement’s paragraph 5, which mandates claimant-states to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.”

For 15 years, China delayed the ASEAN proposal to turn the DOC into a legally-binding Code of Conduct while it went island building in the Paracels and Spratly in 2012.
A year later, the Philippines went to an arbitration court questioning China’s excessive claims, and argued separately that Beijing’s-island building could be a violation of the DOC.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague nullified China’s nine-dash-line claim in a landmark ruling in 2016, which also declared all shoals, reefs, and atolls in the Spratly chain of islands as high-tide features or low-tide elevations that could not sustain human habitation or economic life of their own and, therefore, shall not have exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.