MANILA, Philippines — The 2016 international arbitration ruling that has invalidated most of China’s claims in the South China Sea must be included in a code of conduct aimed to check aggressive actions in the disputed waters.
“In effect, the Hague ruling on the Philippines’ case in the South China Sea should be an integral part of a binding Code of Conduct. Our region cannot promote the rule of law while ignoring the law as it stands,” said former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in a forum in Makati City on Monday.
The former top diplomat was one of the leading figures in the filing of the arbitration case that challenged China’s massive claims in the South China Sea in 2013.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are expected to again feature as a potential source of friction at the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to be held early next month in Thailand.
The 10-member regional bloc has grappled repeatedly with forging a unified approach to the issue. China has effectively drawn on the support of Cambodia and other Asean allies in blocking strong statements criticizing its actions and claim to sovereignty over virtually the entire strategic waterway.
China and the five countries that have conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea, including Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, have been moving ahead in negotiations for a code of conduct aimed at reducing the potential for armed conflict.
China hopes to finalize the joint code by 2021.
“The Asean should stress that the South China Sea is nobody’s backyard or exclusive preserve. Failure to do so would severely narrow Asean’s options and make it over-dependent on a single player,” Del Rosario said.
Without a binding code of conduct, Chinese aggression and military activities will persistently push the existing entitlements under international law of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam into more turbulent waters, he said.
Del Rosario also suggested a joint discussion with Vietnam on some aspects of the sea code.
“Clearly, it would be a constructive move to consult with Vietnam to give us an opportunity to share and appreciate each other’s views which could lead to an agreed plan of action that is beneficial not only to both countries but to others as well,” he said.