Will China ever change?*

THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China have finally agreed to carry out negotiations for an effective code of conduct on the disputed South China Sea.

Leaders of ASEAN and China have agreed to start the talks based on the framework approved by the foreign ministers last August. The negotiations, which will reportedly begin in March 2018 in Vietnam, are part of the 20th ASEAN-China Summit and the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits hosted by the Philippines this year.

Both parties have agreed that it is important that they cooperate to maintain peace, stability, freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with international law which includes the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This is all well and good since crafting a code of conduct concerning the disputed waters can be considered the biggest milestone for ASEAN and China in the past 15 years.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang says China will be a good neighbor and partner to ASEAN. They are allegedly committed to working with ASEAN to be good friends that will always stand together come rain or shine.

This statement may be quite soothing but it does not change the fact that China, which claims most of the South China Sea, continues to reclaim disputed reefs and fortify them with military features.

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The Philippines, under the previous leadership, used to criticize China’s insolence concerning its South China Sea neighbors and brazenness in preventing Filipino fishermen from pursuing their livelihood.

We won an arbitration case against China in July 2016 where Beijing’s historical claim over the territory was declared by the court as having no legal basis. Despite this, China continued to reject the ruling.

The current administration under President Duterte engaged China in diplomacy and avoided conflict on territorial claims. This is practical since the Philippines can be compared to an ant pitted against a behemoth that is China.

Back in 2002, ASEAN foreign ministers and China signed a declaration of conduct by the parties in South China Sea but agreed to a looser set of guidelines for their actions.

Firing Line hopes the next code of conduct will be respected and followed by all parties concerned, especially China.

Just in case, will China ever dismantle all the structures and artificial islands they put up in our territory?

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View.

* The opinion of this author/s is/are his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.


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