Draft code of conduct will weaken Asean ties with other countries – expert

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The current draft code of conduct in the South China Sea, if passed, would “severely undermine” the alliances of Southeast Asian nations with countries outside the region, a maritime expert warned on Wednesday.

The current draft code of conduct in the South China Sea, if passed, would “severely undermine” the alliances of Southeast Asian nations with countries outside the region, a maritime expert warned on Wednesday.

“I don’t think the Philippines will accept it the same way that other nations in the region because it will limit their options and ability to defend themselves or enhance and develop their own capabilities,” Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said in an interview with the ANC program “Headstart.”

“They should have the choice essentially. What this will do, it will severely undermine the alliances between Philippines and United States, Thailand and United States, etc.,” he said.

The analyst raised a part of the draft document where China proposed that Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) member states “cannot conduct joint military exercises with external powers without the notification and consent of other states.”

This means that China can veto joint exercises between Asean nations and other external powers if the draft code will be passed, he explained.

“If this is agreed upon, for example, the Philippines will not be able to hold Balikatan exercises simply because China has objected to it,” Batongbacal said.

China also proposed the regular conduct of joint military exercises with Asean countries but without the participation of other foreign countries – “unless the parties concerned are notified and express no objection.”

Batongbacal also raised China’s proposal that “maritime cooperation and exploitation of resources in South China Sea should not involve other countries outside the region aside from China and Asean.”

“They are trying to elbow out foreign companies that are not Chinese and not Asean. I’m sure Asean countries will not find it acceptable. It will limit their options,” he said.

Batongbacal said it would not be advisable to accept the proposal as China – already the dominant power in the region – would monopolize Asean’s commercial and strategic options.

“This is the first time China has come out with an actual proposed text which in their intentions are laid out,” he said. “The thing that stands out in their proposals is an apparent objective of turning South China Sea and Southeast Asia into an exclusive China-dominated enclave in terms of military and strategic issues.”

Four Asean member states – Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – are locked in territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea.

Foreign ministers from Southeast Asia and China have last week agreed on a single draft document that will be the basis of future negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea. 

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