According to Reuters, ASEAN officials say that they will meet with Chinese representatives in Singapore beginning March 18 to try and make some progress on talks to establish a “code of conduct” in the South China Sea. China agreed to discuss a South China Sea code of conduct at the ASEAN forum last July, a move that was widely applauded in the region. The first round of meetings was held in Beijing in September, and concluded with an agreement to seek “gradual progress and consensus through consultations.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to ASEAN, China, and the South China Sea, progress has been slow and consensus almost nonexistent. Negotiations over a code of conduct are complicated by the simple fact that not every ASEAN member state is involved in the territorial disputes. Of the 10 ASEAN members, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei claim territory that also falls within China’s “nine-dash line.” Even these four states are not on the same page, with Vietnam and the Philippines vocally protesting China’s ‘aggression’ and Malaysia and Brunei keeping a much lower profile.