PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte yesterday said he will “try his best” to expedite the conclusion of negotiations for a code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) as China wants the rulebook finished in three years.
The Philippines is currently the dialogue coordinator between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which are negotiating for the COC aimed at preventing conflicting territorial claims in the resource rich waters from erupting into violent confrontations or worse, an economically-devastating major conflict.
Duterte on Wednesday delivered during the ASEAN-China Summit a common statement in which both parties vowed “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the “expeditious conclusion of an effective” COC.
ASEAN and China also said they expect an initial review of the draft negotiating text for the COC to happen next year. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, meanwhile, hoped the negotiations will be completed in three years’ time “so that it will contribute to enduring peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
“Well, you know I’m the country coordinator for ASEAN-China. I will try my best. I made a very strong statement yesterday [Wednesday] about the urgent need for a COC so that everybody will know,” Duterte told reporters on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore.
“Because when you claim an ocean, the whole of it, then that is a new development in today’s world. So any sense, it would also [entail] radical changes in the laws of governing international waters, particularly the right of free passage or the right of innocent passage,” he added.
He reiterated that China is effectively in control of some of the features in the strategic waterway as he warned of a potential “bad miscalculation” as a result of “friction” between China and other nations with interests in the South China Sea.
Although the United States is not a party to the disputes, it has declared that ensuring freedom of trade and navigation as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea are in its national interest too.
“One day a bad miscalculation could turn things— Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong,” Duterte said.
Duterte also expressed his aversion to holding military drills in the South China Sea whose features and waters are contested in part or in whole by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and China.