ASEAN Summit begins in Bangkok with renewed focus on South China Sea

Leaders of ASEAN will convene in Bangkok today for a series of committee meetings that will precede the 35th ASEAN

south china sea code of conduct

Photo: VOA

Leaders of ASEAN will convene in Bangkok today for a series of committee meetings that will precede the 35th ASEAN Summit.

ASEAN’s 10 member states are under pressure amid renewed tensions in the South China Sea after a series of Chinese naval exercises and surveys were conducted in what is internationally considered Vietnamese waters. A formal Code of Conduct has been proposed by both China and ASEAN states to mitigate recent developments.

Many ASEAN states fear that a formal Code of Conduct might legally legitimise Beijing’s claims to waters around Chinese-built artificial islands. China currently argues that the Code of Conduct should bar foreign militaries from conducting intelligence-gathering activities in exclusive economic zones. Furthermore, China argues that its artificial islands establish a 200 nautical mile radius of land ownership, in contravention of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

On one hand, many ASEAN states might call for any Code of Conduct to strictly abide by prior rulings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. On the other hand, because all the ASEAN states rely heavily on trade with China, many members might not publicly condemn China’s actions. Expect states like the Philippines, which has felt Chinese economic punishment in the past, to employ strategically ambiguous language. ASEAN states that have allied with China, like Cambodia, will support Beijing’s interests in Code of Conduct discussions.

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