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Xi now seeks sea reg

Kristina Maralit

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Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that China “could be” the cause of delay in the completion of the long-mooted Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea, Beijing has seemingly dropped its initial reluctance and is now calling on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to step up efforts for its implementation.

An editorial by Nikkei Asia editor-in-chief Toru Takahashi on Tuesday claimed Chinese President Xi Jinping now wants the CoC completed before Mr. Duterte’s three-year term as lead negotiator of the ASEAN-China dialogue ends in 2021.

Takahashi said this is to take advantage of the President’s “soft” stance on China and its aggressive activities in the disputed waterway as both sides have made “major progress” in the ASEAN-China foreign ministers meeting held in Bangkok last 31 July.

In that meeting, a yearend deadline was set for the completion of “the first stage of work on the agreement.”

‘Let’s start’

However, while China is now ready to floor the talks, the ASEAN, the report said, “appears less enthusiastic” in enforcing a code.

One reason could very well be Beijing’s continuous flexing of its military muscle in the contested waters perceived as a way of intimidating its rivals.

The dragging negotiations in putting together the CoC, an initiative to hopefully have a non-violent resolution to the maritime territorial disputes among many countries, Mr. Duterte recently noted, is one of the main reasons he pushed to have a “one-on-one dialogue” with Xi.

The Chief Executive is slated to make his second trip to Beijing later this month to discuss the CoC with Xi, as well as raise the country’s concerns over the persistent presence of Chinese vessels near Philippine waters.

“They are delaying it and it’s causing so many incidents and one day it will — one mistake, a miscalculation there and then there’s no turning back,” he stated.

He also stressed the urgency of having a sea conduct in place as recent maritime incidents in the South China Sea between China and other countries claiming portions of the territory have become a “very big issue.”

‘The Hague ruling’

The President also guaranteed that he will raise the arbitral ruling invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim in the waterway, a decision Xi and even Chinese envoy to Manila Zhao Jinhua have repeatedly said that Beijing does not recognize. The President vowed that he will never “give up even an inch” of Philippine territory to China or other foreigners.

The South China Sea holds a great importance to the ASEAN and China.

It encompasses an area from the Karimata and Malacca straits to the Strait of Taiwan of around 3,500,000 square kilometers.

One-third of the world’s shipping passes through it, carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year. It is also a lucrative fisheries area, which are crucial for the food security of millions in Southeast Asia.

Huge oil and gas reserves are believed to lie beneath its seabed.

The waterway is located to the south of China, east of Vietnam, west of the Philippines, east of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, up to the Strait of Singapore in the western, and north of the Bangka Belitung Islands and Borneo.

In September 2012, former President Benigno Aquino III signed Administrative Order 29, mandating that all government agencies use the name “West Philippine Sea” to refer to the parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. These include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc.

He tasked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority to use the name in official maps.

President Duterte, however, charged Aquino of leaving the disputed islands at the hands of the Chinese.

In a past statement, Mr. Duterte alleged Aquino had ordered the withdrawal of Philippine presence in the West Philippine Sea, resulting in China’s occupancy of the disputed islands.

Aquino had sought arbitration from The Hague and won, but it was too late to reclaim the islands from the Chinese troops, Mr. Duterte said.