Discussions on the general concept of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea (SCS) are going on, but details on the rules of engagement were unlikely to be crafted during the next round of talks in March, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“It will continue where they left off. They have started on the main body but it’s quite technical,” DFA Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Daniel Espiritu said in a press briefing on Wednesday, referring to the just-concluded ASEAN-China ministers meeting on the SCS issue.
“So far, the discussions are centered on generalities. We don’t see talks the body of the COC which are the actual rules of engagement happening soon). We don’t know when,” he added.
Espiritu said the trajectory of the discussions had been “very dynamic” given that the parties—the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China—have differing positions, one of the reasons why the two-decade old agreement to establish the code progresses slowly.
At the close of the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, Indonesia vowed to lead efforts to “explore new approaches” to speed up the negotiations.
Indonesia, the current ASEAN chair, will host a series of negotiations on the COC, the first of which will be in March 2023.
China and the ASEAN agreed to create and adopt the COC upon signing the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea on Nov. 4, 2002.
The DFA said the COC would not resolve the maritime row, but merely provide measures or rules of engagement that nations could follow to avoid escalation of tensions or untoward incidents in SCS.
“It will not resolve the dispute, it will not do boundary delimitation,” the DFA said.