China-ASEAN COC consultation thriving

By Wu Shicun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/22 18:23:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

During last year's China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi put forward four visions on the Code of Conduct (COC) consultation, one of which was that China and ASEAN countries would finish their consultation on the COC outline in the first half of 2017 without disturbances. China and ASEAN countries agreed on a COC framework during the 14th senior officials' meeting on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Guiyang Thursday. This is a historical step toward regional peace and stability that China and ASEAN are striving to maintain via rule-making and mechanism construction.

The COC consultation is part of the effective implementation of the DOC, and an important consensus reached since the DOC negotiation was initiated in the 1990s. Thanks to unremitting efforts by China and ASEAN, the COC consultation has entered the stage of consultation on "important and complex issues" since it was launched during the sixth senior officials' meeting on the implementation of the DOC in Suzhou, 2013.

All parties concerned have reached consensus on the list of "important and complex issues" and all elements of the draft COC framework, approved the Guidelines for Hotline Communications among Senior Officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of China and ASEAN Member States in Response to Maritime Emergencies and the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea, and agreed to explore preemptive measures to put maritime risks under control before the COC takes effect.

As a phased achievement of COC consultation, consensus on the COC framework has paved the way for follow-up negotiations. It does not involve substantive terms and cannot be equated to the COC itself. But it is an important and historical step from the DOC to the COC and a substantial outcome achieved by China and ASEAN in maintaining South China Sea peace via rule-making and mechanism construction.

The COC framework reflects future rules and orders in the South China Sea. It's a symbol of the enhancement of China-ASEAN political mutual trust as well as strengthened will and capability by regional countries to handle regional affairs. It also indicates peace and stability in the South China Sea that the international community is concerned will be safeguarded by mechanisms and institutions, and proves that regional countries can take full responsibility in maintaining South China Sea peace and stability without exterior disturbances.

While breakthroughs and substantive outcomes of the COC consultation are worthy of applause, we should view the achievements with rationality, and be prepared for potential difficulties and challenges in future COC consultation.

China and ASEAN countries may have different opinions or even disputes on some core COC terms, and time is needed to narrow differences and sometimes concessions are required.

Apart from China and ASEAN countries, the international community should also be psychologically prepared for potential difficulties and obstacles in future COC consultation. Time, tolerance and a friendly atmosphere are prerequisites to successful COC negotiation.

We have reasons to believe that with joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries, the advancement of COC consultation and deepening maritime and security cooperation under the DOC framework, China and ASEAN will become a community of common destiny and jointly build South China Sea into one of peace, friendship and cooperation in the near future.

The author is president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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