China and Southeast Asian countries have agreed to a draft framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea.
China and the ASEAN had been hoping to agree on the framework this year, 15 years after committing to draft it.
The South China Sea dispute:
The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China (ROC), Malaysia,Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. An estimated US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea; there are many non-claimant states that want the South China Sea to remain as international waters. Several states (e.g. the United States of America) are conducting “freedom of navigation” operations to promote this situation.
ASEAN’s Code of Conduct
The genesis of ASEAN’s 2012 draft COC may be traced back to 1995 when China occupied Mischief Reef, a maritime feature claimed by the Philippines. The Mischief Reef incident marked a turning point. ASEAN foreign ministers issued a statement expressing their “serious concern” and urged the concerned parties “to refrain from taking actions that de-stabilize the situation.” The Philippines, as the aggrieved party, sought the backing from its fellow ASEAN members for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that would constrain China from further encroachments on Philippines sovereignty. In late 1999 ASEAN members finally reached agreement on a COC.
South China Sea:
South China Sea is part of Pacific Ocean spreading an area of some 35 lakh square km with eight littoral countries / territories viz. China, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam. It is strategically located in the international shipping route that sees the passage of world’s half of the merchant ships. The sea is rich in energy reserves including petroleum, mineral and fishing resources. It is made of some 200 tiny islands, coral reefs, shoals, sandbanks etc. grouped into three archipelagos of Spratlys, Paracels and Pratas. The Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal are also part of South China Sea. Several countries have made competing territorial claims over the South China Sea. Such disputes have been regarded as Asia’s most potentially dangerous point of conflict.