Yesterday, China expressed satisfaction over finalising a first draft of a Code of Conduct with Asean on South China Sea issues. It has taken 21 years – and it is by no means certain that a substantive final agreement can be reached.
The Philippines’ chairmanship of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) comes at a critical moment for the regional body, which marks the 50th anniversary of its founding this year.
A toxic combination of maritime disputes, growing uncertainty over the direction of the new American government, and deep confusion over Manila’s own foreign policy, however, has challenged Asean centrality like never before. In particular, the Philippines is currently under tremendous pressure to deliver a multilateral diplomatic breakthrough in the South China Sea disputes.
Eager to prevent a dangerous escalation in maritime disputes, Asean is determined to finalise the framework of a Code of Conduct (COC) with China before the end of the year. The COC is meant to be a binding agreement to ease tensions in the region.