US and Chinese air forces urged to sign up to South China Sea guidelines after Asean states agree on code of conduct


Defence ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have agreed a set of guidelines for warplanes flying over the disputed South China Sea, and will invite China and the US to sign up to the same code of conduct.

Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the agreement at the annual Asean defence ministers’ meeting in Singapore, which ends on Friday.

Ng said they would reduce the risk of air accidents, adding: “[They] are like a seat belt. They do not completely protect you but at least they provide some protection.”

Ng said the bloc’s dialogue partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US – would be urged to adopt the guidelines at the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADDM-Plus) on Saturday.

Last year, Asean and its partner nations agreed a similar code to govern encounters at sea.

Reuters reported that the 10 Asean states had also agreed to adopt the “our eyes” initiative, launched by six member-states in January, as a platform to exchange information on terrorism, radicalism, violent extremism, and other “non-traditional” threats in the region.

The South China Sea, where a number of nations – including China – have overlapping claims, was high on the agenda at the summit.

Beijing warned to expect more US ‘provocations’ in South China Sea
Late on Thursday, Chinese state media reported that the country’s defence minister had urged the US to “walk with China” to maintain stability and peace in the disputed waters at a meeting with his American counterpart at the summit.

But, according to the report by state news agency Xinhua, Wei Fenghe also reiterated China’s stance on Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province, and the South China Sea.

“The correct way of solving conflicts and differences is respect and tolerance,” Wei told US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

James Mattis and Wei Fenghe meet at the summit in Singapore. Photo: Reuters
“The militaries from both sides need to work hard together to increase strategic communication, manage security risks, expand fields of cooperation, and push forward the healthy and stable development of military-to-military relations.

“China stands firmly on principle on Taiwan and South China Sea issues …[We] hope the US can follow the trend of the times and walk towards the same direction alongside China, and make positive contributions to the peace and stability of the region and the world.”

Mattis was reported to have replied: “There are differences between the US and China, but differences do not mean confrontation, competition does not mean rivalry.

“The US is keen to develop military-to-military relations, and [we] think increasing cooperation is the only reasonable way to develop the relations.”