MonitorsPublished on Apr 12, 2017
South China Sea | Vol. VI, Issue 4

THE ISSUE: Law and Rhetoric in the South China Sea

ASEAN and China recently announced that they had agreed on the first draft framework of the much-awaited Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. The draft is expected to be an important step towards regulating navigation and sovereignty rights in the South China Sea and has been in process for almost seven years. Discussions for developing a code of conduct for monitoring the behavior of littoral states and formulating measures that would help in avoiding and if necessary, resolving inter-state maritime conflicts have been underway between the ten member ASEAN on one hand and China on the other since 2002. This period has been one of the most tumultuous in recent maritime history with territorial disputes recurring often. Moreover Beijing’s role has not been conducive either with many states expressing concerns over what they perceive as an infringement of the 1982 UNCLOS agreement. The Sea has been rife with competing claims of all littoral countries with China and has become a highlight in the last couple of years because of constructions being undertaken by China on islands located in the waters. A set of rules that pertain, legalize and police the troubled waters is thus essential. It has taken a long time for the code of conduct to be formulated, albeit in a draft form, because of these reasons. But at the same time, it must be remembered that progress in the South China Sea usually rings hollow. There have been many instances in the past when Chinese rhetoric of cooperation and peace in the South China Sea has been quickly followed by actions that have been completely antithetical to the rhetoric. Speaking on the sidelines of the Chinese parliamentary session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the announcement and said that China and the ASEAN have made ‘clear progress’ on the draft. Simultaneously, Wang also said, in a reference to the US, that parties who wish to incite trouble will be met with action. The draft is expected to be completed by the middle of 2017. The timing of the declaration that the first draft of the Code of Conduct is ready is also interesting because it comes close on the heels of China refusing to acknowledge the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration last year. Since then, China’s pace and intensity of land reclamation and constructions on the reefs, atolls and islands in the Sea have gathered an unprecedented momentum. Policies of the US towards the Sea have also become more vocal with a change in political dispensation. Countries like Australia who do not share are not directly part of the Sea have also raised concerns and called for the finalization of a set of rules that would govern the waters and minimize and mitigate maritime issues. The declaration this month therefore could be a way to allay these concerns. Nevertheless, member countries of the ASEAN know their Asian neighbor well enough to gauge that legalities concerning Beijing are always in a bit of a grey area.


Philippines, China to hold direct talks on South China Sea

The Philippines and China will hold direct talks on their maritime dispute in May, Filipino officials said, as President Duterte seeks stronger economic ties with Beijing. China has invited officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for a visit to start discussions on a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the Philippines and China agreed during the 20th round of Sino-Philippine diplomatic consultation last January to establish a bilateral mechanism on the South China Sea issue. Source:(Philstar)

Premier Li says China is not militarising South China Sea

China is not militarizing the South China Sea, Premier Li Keqiang said, although he acknowledged that defense equipment on islands in the disputed waterway had been placed there to maintain "freedom of navigation". China has drawn international criticism for large-scale building in the South China Sea, although Li told reporters in Australia the development was for civilian purposes only. "China's facilities, Chinese islands and reefs, are primarily for civilian purposes and, even if there is a certain amount of defense equipment or facilities, it is for maintaining the freedom of navigation," Li said. Source:(Reuters)

Philippines President derides US for inaction in South China Sea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accused the United States of having a provocative stance on the South China Sea and said its inaction when China started building manmade islands was the cause of tensions now besetting the region. Duterte said Washington's freedom of navigation patrols risked a "miscalculation" that could spark conflict, and accused the previous U.S. administration of pressuring the Philippines to take a stand against China, without a guarantee of military support. The firebrand leader is open about his grudge against his country's oldest ally, which he said was bound by a treaty to protect the Philippines, but had done nothing when China started building in parts of Manila's its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Source:(Reuters)

Thailand, Philippines agree on South China Sea

Thailand and the Philippines have agreed to emphasise freedom of navigation in the disputed South China Sea as a core value in securing peace and prosperity in the region. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shared the same stance on the maritime territorial disputes in the area during a joint press conference at Government House. The two leaders stressed the need for full and effective implementation of the DOC in its entirety and expressed their shared determination to complete a framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the area within this year. (Bangkok Post)

China denies reports of building on disputed shoal

China's Foreign Ministry denied reports that China will begin preparatory work this year for an environmental monitoring station on disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Earlier this month, Xiao Jie, the mayor of what China calls Sansha City, said China planned to begin preparatory work this year to build environmental monitoring stations on a number of islands, including Scarborough Shoal. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing "According to the relevant bodies in China, the reports that touch upon building environmental monitoring stations on Scarborough Shoal are mistaken, these things are not true." (Reuters)

If Taipei is not involved, S China Sea code futile: Taiwan

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced that no code of conduct in the South China Sea would be binding on Taiwan if Taipei is not included in negotiations and dialogues aimed at creating a set of rules to avoid conflict among rival claimants in the region. The declaration was made after Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told the Central News Agency that all ASEAN members adhere to the “one China” policy. As a result, regarding Taiwan’s claims in the South China Sea, ASEAN sees China as the representative in negotiations concerning the claims, Jose said. (Taipei Times)

Philippines to strengthen military facilities in contested South China Sea

he Philippines said Friday it will strengthen its military facilities on islands and shoals in the disputed South China Sea and announced initial plans to build a new port and pave an existing rough airstrip. Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana had been scheduled to inspect an outpost on Thitu, one of the disputed Spratly Islands, but his trip was cancelled because of “safety issues” and he spent the day instead at a military base where he unveiled the development plans. Thitu is close to Subi Reef, one of seven man made islands in the Spratlys that China is accused of militarizing with surface-to-air missiles and other armaments. (The Japan Times)

Australia calls for binding conduct code in South China Sea

Australia urged Southeast Asia's regional bloc and China to conclude a legally-binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, voicing opposition today to the scale of reclamation and construction by China in the disputed territory.  Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking in Manila, urged the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China to exceed the ongoing discussions to craft a framework of the code of conduct and to instead conclude an enforceable code of conduct as soon as possible. (The Economic Times)

Japan, US conduct Navy drills in East China Sea: reports

The Japanese and U.S. navies are conducting joint exercises in the East China Sea as tension intensifies in the region following North Korea’s missile tests, local media reported on Friday. The two sides launched the drill earlier this week, involving Japanese destroyers and a U.S. Navy carrier strike group. The drill was aimed at issuing a warning against nuclear-armed North Korea. But is added the exercise was also meant to display the joint Japan-U.S. military presence in the East China Sea. China responded that it was “firmly opposed” to the deployment and vowed to “resolutely take necessary measures” to defend its security interests. (The Hindu)

Australia says no plan for joint South China Sea patrols with Indonesia

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that his country aimed to work more closely with Indonesia over maritime security, but there was no plan for the neighbours to hold joint patrols in the South China Sea. In an interview with the Australian newspaper last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he would like to see joint patrols and intended to raise the idea with Turnbull, but only if it did not further inflame tensions with China. (Hindustan Times)

China says first draft of South China Sea code of conduct ready

A first draft of a code of conduct for behavior in the disputed South China Sea has been completed, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday, adding tension in the waterway had eased notably. Since 2010, China and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been discussing a set of rules aimed at avoiding conflict among rival claimants in the busy South China Sea. Speaking at his annual news conference on the sidelines of China's parliamentary session, Wang said talks last month had made "clear progress" and had formulated a first draft of a framework for the code. (Reuters)
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