Philippines China Row on Disputed Sea

Philippine President Benigno Aquino urged Southeast Asian neighbours to put pressure on China to agree on a binding code of conduct to ease tension in South China Sea following Chinese test flights to an island it has built.

Since 2010, China and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been discussing a set of rules for rival claimants in the South China Sea aimed at avoiding conflict.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade passes every year, and has been increasingly assertive in staking its claim.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have rival claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas.

Philippines had done everything it could to push forward discussions on the code – a set of rules setting out how claimant states should behave, and imposing sanctions on countries that violate it, aimed at preventing provocative action, the raising of tension and conflict.

China and ASEAN were due to meet next month to draw up elements of the code.

China, which has long said it was ready to discuss rival claims bilaterally, has said it will agree on a code of conduct when “the time is ripe”.

Analysts say it might be waiting for the completion of its work on artificial islands it is building in the South China Sea before sitting down with ASEAN.

China landed two test flights on one of the islands on Wednesday, four days after its first landing on the 3,000 metre (10,000 feet) runway on a reef in the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines denounced the flights.

In 2013, the Philippines filed an arbitration case in The Hague to force China to negotiate a peaceful settlement of their territorial dispute.

China has ignored the case but Aquino said China, as a responsible member of the international community, could not ignore a ruling from the court, expected in May or June.

The Philippines is also calling for a moratorium on all construction activities in the disputed sea.