China ‘moves to limit US influence’ in South China Sea code negotiations


The US has suggested China is using the South China Sea code of conduct to pressure ASEAN states to accept their South China Sea claims.

Experts have told The Australian Beijing is attempting to use the negotiations to minimise the presence of the US Navy and the Australian Navy in the sea.

Last week ASEAN and China agreed on single draft text that will form the basis of negotiations on South China Sea code of conduct to govern multiple claims from countries and territories such as Vietnam, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

After recent military exercises between ASEAN nations and China which the US and Australia were excluded from, the draft code of conduct reportedly calls for more regular drills between Beijing and the Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.

But the draft also reportedly includes a proposed clause from China that countries should not hold joint military exercises with countries from outside the region, “unless the parties concerned are notified beforehand and express no objection”.

Experts say if the clause is accepted it could effectively allow China to veto US presence in exercises in the region.

Asked about the clause Piper Campbell — who is the US Chargé d’Affaires at the country’s mission to ASEAN — said the code should not be used as a way to pressure other countries.

“We think it’s extremely important that no country pressure other countries within structures like the code of conduct negotiations,” she said during a briefing on Tuesday.

“It’s important that all countries regardless of their size have the opportunity to represent their national interests as well as the very clear international principles including the principles that are enshrined in UNCLOS.”

The US says it abides by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea but it is yet to ratify the convention.

International Institute for Strategic Studies Senior Fellow William Choong said the cause made clear that China was attempting to use the code of conduct to reduce the presence of the US Navy and the Australian Navy in the South China Sea.

“If the US Navy or the ADF want to participate in these exercises you need to get kind of mutual consent from China as well as ASEAN,” he told The Australian.