ASEAN member-nations and China have completed a draft framework for a code of conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
A COC has been in the making since the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed in 2002.
However, formal talks began only in 2013 after Manila filed a case against Beijing at an international tribunal on overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Three other Asean countries – Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – as well as Taiwan also claim parts of the disputed sea.
In the three years that followed, progress had been slow, in part due to a lack of consensus in Asean and China’s reluctance to move things forward.
Singapore is the current coordinator for Asean-China relations.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$) in goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
China’s construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea have stoked tensions in the region.
ASEAN and China have announced several confidence building measures, including setting up a communications protocol for unplanned encounters in the South China Sea as well as a hotline among the foreign ministries to respond to maritime emergencies.