The Philippines and China have vowed to fast-track the creation of a binding document that would outline the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the South China Sea amid rising tension in the disputed waters.
During their meeting in Malacañang on Friday, President Duterte and Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe agreed to work on the Code of Conduct between China and the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a bid to keep peace and stability in the region.
Duterte stressed the importance of concluding an “effective and substantive” code, saying that this will be an “important and lasting legacy” of ASEAN and Beijing to ensure that no violent conflicts will arise between the six claimants in the South China Sea.
Minister Wei, for his part, vowed that China would work with the Philippines to advance negotiations on the Code of Conduct and to “manage differences” to secure peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Their assurance came on the heels of escalating tension between the United States and China as Washington moved to impose visa and export restrictions on about two dozen Chinese firms linked to reclamation and militarization in the disputed waters.
The US said it will act until it sees Beijing “discontinue its coercive behavior” in the South China Sea, adding that it is America’s way of showing support for a “free and open” ASEAN region.
China, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the resource-rich area known for important shipping lanes, as well as crude oil and natural gas.
During their meeting, Duterte also invoked the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international laws to keep peace in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims in its entirety.
“We must always be guided by our commitments in international law. Any and all disputes must be resolved peacefully in full accord with the UNCLOS and all relevant international instruments,” Duterte said.
In 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights to its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, rejecting China’s historic claim and nine-dash line doctrine in the South China Sea.
China refuses to recognize the landmark ruling, which was based on UNCLOS, an international treaty that “lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.”
Meanwhile, President Duterte welcomed positive developments in Philippines-China defense and security cooperation.
During Wei’s visit, he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana signed the implementing guidelines for China’s grant of 130 million renminbi or about P920-million worth of equipment to the Armed Forces of the Philippines that would be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Duterte also acknowledged China’s continuing support for the Philippines’ defense modernization since 2017.
Wei is in Manila as part of a swing tour of ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.