High on the agenda is finding a way to strengthen ASEAN’s internal connectivity, enhance its relationship with partners, and build a Vision to 2025.
At a meeting on August 6, ASEAN and China approved a draft framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea and included the East Sea issue in a joint communiqué.
The East Sea is a strategic area for ASEAN countries and an important international marine route.
Disputes regularly occur between countries claiming sovereignty in overlapping sea areas. The East Sea has been included as a shared concerning ASEAN’s agendas.
Legally binding tool needed to resolve East Sea disputes
ASEAN wants to work with China on a legally binding tool to resolve disputes in the East Sea.
A Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea was proposed in 2005 and 15 years later, at the AMM-50, both sides have finally approved a COC draft framework.
The COC must be a higher level mechanism than the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) which ASEAN and China signed in 2002.
It is consistent with international laws, the UN Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), and the DOC.
Parties have the responsibility to support peace, stability, security, safety, and freedom of navigation, build trust, prevent disputes, and peacefully resolve disputes based on international law.
ASEAN’s aim is a COC that adheres to the DOC’s positive points and can adapt to new situations.
ASEAN wants a legally-binding Code of Conduct which includes a mechanism to monitor and guarantee compliance and which respects the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of every coastal country as defined under the UNCLOS.
The COC draft framework, which was approved on August 5, needs to be signed by each ASEAN country before it can take effect.
Getting every ASEAN country and China to ratify the document will be a challenge, but the approval of the framework already demonstrates the aspiration of ASEAN members to ensure peace, stability, friendship, and cooperation in the East Sea.
ASEAN’s joint communiqué on August 6 praised the approval of the COC draft framework; expressed concern over land reclamation and other activities which erode trust, provoke tensions, and undermine regional peace, security, and stability; and urged all parties to build trust, refrain from activities that complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful solutions that respect international law and the UNCLOS.
ASEAN achieving consensus
ASEAN has an important role in regional peace and stability as well as more global matters. Continued consensus will be the key to overcoming security challenges.