Nov 14, 2012

Philippines - Philippines to Urge China to Start Sea Code Talks at Summit

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino will urge China to start negotiations on a set of rules to avoid conflict in the South China Sea during a regional summit next week, a government official said.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in July agreed on a code of conduct for operating in the waters. China, undergoing a once-in-a-decade leadership transition, said at the time it will start talks with Asean “when conditions are ripe,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

“We are ready to negotiate with China,” Raul Hernandez, spokesman for the Philippine foreign affairs department, told reporters in Manila today, referring to Asean. “We hope China would respond positively, and immediately tackle this issue so we can have something binding.”

China has resisted calls by Asean members and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to quickly reach a deal on a code of conduct, preferring instead to push for joint development of resources to ease tensions. Vietnam and the Philippines reject China’s map of the sea as a basis for sharing oil, gas and fish in the waters.

Asean leaders will meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and U.S. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and other regional leaders during meetings in Phnom Penh next week. Cambodia holds Asean’s rotating chairmanship.

Non-Binding Guidelines

Last year, Asean and China agreed on guidelines to implement a non-binding agreement signed in 2002 that called on signatories to avoid occupying disputed islands, inform others of military exercises and resolve territorial disputes peacefully. The eight guidelines approved last year say activities in the sea should be step-by-step, on a voluntary basis and based on consensus.

While Asean reached agreement on elements of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, the bloc failed to reach consensus on handling disputes in the waters in a communique. They eventually agreed on six principles that avoided mentioning a standoff earlier this year between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal, which both countries claim.

“With these six principles on the South China Sea issue, we can move forward and these summits will be on a totally different dynamic,” Hernandez said. “We are hoping and expecting that there will be smooth and very productive results on these meetings.”

Daniel Ten Kate and Joel Guinto

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