The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have come to an agreement on a draft document for the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea. While it looks like there remains much work to be done for the actual CoC to be finalized and agreed upon, the draft document represents a major milestone in ASEAN-China relations. The working text would serve as a foundation where future CoC negotiations can be built upon. However, concerns remain with regards to the specifics of the draft, which have not been released publicly as a result of its“sensitivity” to ongoing negotiations.
This is good…right?
Well, only time will tell. While the role of the CoC is to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea, it will not directly resolve ongoing territorial disputes in the region. In the meantime, China has been capable of building small islands through land reclamation in the disputed territories. Since 2013, China has been responsible for creating an estimated 12.9 square kilometres of new land in the South China Sea, a region that sees more than US$5 trillion of trade activity through the transit of ships. In addition, the housing of military bases on these islands has been a direct cause of tension in the region.
In a clear signal of discouragement towards US involvement in ongoing negotiations, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hailed the drafting of the working document a success, expedited by the absence of “any disturbances from the outside”. As of this moment, it seems that ASEAN has decided to wade it out alone in open waters. One does not have to look very far back in history to see how an ASEAN-China territorial dispute could play out.