ASEAN begins talks on CoC, will push for nuke-free zone
ASEAN sought to eradicate the possibility of conflict in the region as its officials began their first talks on creating a code of conduct (CoC) on the South China Sea here on Sunday, while also persuading the five nuclear countries (P5) to respect ASEAN’s nuclear weapon-free zone.
Sea raiders: Members of the Indonesian Navy’s Kopaska elite underwater demolition team are on patrol in the waters near Benoa Port in Denpasar, Bali, on Saturday. The Navy has deployed three Kopaska teams and several warships to Bali to secure the ASEAN Summit and its follow-on events, which begin on Thursday. Antara/Ari Bowo Sucipto
While each ASEAN member country has its own interpretation on what should constitute a code of conduct, their meeting to discuss more legally binding rules on disputed areas in the South China Sea is symbolic, showing that ASEAN will be united confronting China in the future.
Frequent naval clashes between claimant countries, comprising China and four ASEAN countries – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — in the South China Sea, especially in the area near the Spratly and the Paracel Islands, have turned the territory into a source of tension in the region.
In a sign that both sides have moved toward easing tensions over various claims to energy-rich islands in the area, last July both ASEAN and China agreed on a more loose set of guidelines for cooperation on disputed areas.
The document — the guidelines for the implementation of the declaration of conduct (DoC) — is aimed to “guide the implementation of possible joint cooperative activities, measures and projects”.
The participation in the activities or projects, the guidelines say, should be carried out on a voluntary basis while initial activities undertaken under the ambit of the DoC should be confidence-building measures.
The CoC, meanwhile, could specify terms of engagement among parties in the area to avoid clashes, officials have said.
“These talks on the CoC are only at an early stage. But we have begun the discussion,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry director for ASEAN security and political affairs Ade Padmo Sarwono told a press briefing.
The Philippines and Vietnam have this year accused Chinese vessels of repeatedly intruding into areas in the Spratlys that they claim and of disrupting oil exploration well within their territorial waters. China has denied the accusations and reiterated its claim to the entire South China Sea.
On creating a boost to its Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty, high-ranking ASEAN officials on Monday will meet their counterparts from the five nuclear states — the US, UK, Russia, China and France.
Ade said the five countries had expressed recently their willingness to talk with a regional grouping which possessed a nuclear-free zone treaty.
“Two weeks ago, the P5 countries cosponsored a UN resolution on nuclear-free zones. We will use the momentum to persuade them to respect our treaty,” he said.
Ade expressed hope that the nuclear countries would sign the SEANWFZ protocols.
“We hope the protocols will be legally binding and the five [nuclear] states will recognize ASEAN’s nuclear weapon-free zone.”
The SEANWFZ Treaty was signed by 10 ASEAN leaders in Bangkok on Dec. 15, 1995.
Signatory countries must ensure they do not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any party to the treaty and not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the SEANWFZ.
Ade said earlier that each of the five nuclear states had their own reasons for passing on the protocols, but it is believed that they refused to sign largely due to US and French objections over the unequivocal nature of security assurances and the definitions of territory, including exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
The treaty zone covers the territories, continental shelves and EEZs of the party states within the zone.