By CNN Philippines Staff, August 9, 2023; CNN Philippines
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 9) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will be resuming the negotiations for a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea in Manila on August 22-24.
Last month, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said that he looks forward to having an effective and substantive COC.
During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, the “Guidelines to Accelerate Negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” was adopted, aiming to speed up the negotiations.
The ASEAN-China COC negotiations will be taking place at a time when Manila and Beijing clashed over the recent incident in Ayungin Shoal.
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on Wednesday that while there is no other alternative for ASEAN but to engage with China in COC talks, the Philippines has the option to also consider walking away from it.
“For ASEAN as a whole that’s the only game in town on this issue, but I am putting that suggestion out there. It’s a way of calling their attention to take this process seriously,” said Batongbacal.
“In any negotiating situation when you arrive at a deadlock, walking away is always a valid option. It gives time for people to think, reconsider,” he added.
The maritime expert said that the COC negotiations have been dragging on and the ASEAN appeared to be locked into the idea that countries should just keep talking.
Security analyst Ray Powell, meanwhile, cautioned the Philippines and ASEAN over a possible “weaker code.”
“If China succeeds in getting a weaker COC, then China will say UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and arbitral tribunal will no longer apply to the South China Sea and outside powers have nothing to say about this,” Powell said in the same forum.
Philippine-China relations expert Rommel Banlaoi, on the other hand, said that while there’s nothing preventing the Philippines from walking away from COC negotiations, Manila should be ready for repercussions.
“If the Philippines will unilaterally opt out of COC negotiations, it will be isolated [from] the rest of ASEAN. There is nothing preventing the Philippines [from having] bilateral negotiations for a bilateral code of conduct with China,” he said.
“Let us not lose patience,” the expert added. Banlaoi said that parties in the dispute can take cooperative activities not only with China but also with other parties.