Asean has agreed on a single draft negotiating text to enable a “new era of cooperation” over the long-disputed South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday.
“The West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea has been an area of complex disputes and disagreements,” Cayetano said before meeting his Asean counterparts and the bloc’s partners. “If and when we can finally agree on an effective code of conduct [COC], we can transform this area into a sea of peace, development and cooperation.
“We will be pushing for a framework that will not further complicate and instead create environments to talk and solve territorial and sovereign rights disputes,” Cayetano said.
The whole region could benefit from the resources available in the South China Sea if they can share or find a way to cooperate “without damaging or surrendering any sovereign rights or territorial claims”, the minister added.
He gave no details about the text, claiming there is also “room to negotiation”, but noted that it contains “very good input”.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also noted the fact that Asean and China agreed to the single text is an “important step forward”.
“We’re still discussing… legal issues to ensure that the South China Sea is free from activities that can cause concern to Asean member states,” Saifuddin said. “I’m happy to see that discussion is going on very well and look forward to an agreement.”
Asean and China's foreign ministers were able to agree on the single text in Singapore on Thursday, a significant step toward establishing more binding COC over the contentious sea.
China has previously used allies within Asean, principally Cambodia and Laos, to block consensus and joint resolutions on the South China Sea dispute.