JAKARTA – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Thursday expressed its hope for an “effective and substantive” code of conduct for all activities in the South China Sea.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the 37th Asean Summit as the current chair, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc reaffirmed the bloc’s determination to maintain “peace, stability, and security” in the South China Sea.
“Asean has also expressed consistently its principled position and a strong commitment to turning the South China Sea, a critical sea lane of the region and the world, into a sea of peace, stability, security, and safety for the free flow of goods, where differences and disputes are settled through peaceful means, where the law is fully respected and observed, and common values are upheld,” he said.
Nguyen underscored the importance of the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the legal framework within which all activities in oceans and seas must be carried out.
“At the same time, we look forward to the early conclusion of the code of conduct, which is effective, substantive, and consistent with international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS,” he added.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo also noted the importance of the Asean’s role in maintaining regional peace and stability.
Given the US-China rivalry, he said, it is very normal that both of them want Asean nations on their side, making it imperative for the bloc “to maintain its balance and strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also emphasized the need to fast-track the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to promote peace and stability in the busy waterway.
“The Philippines is one with Asean in transforming the South China Sea into a sea of peace and prosperity for all. We are committed to the immediate conclusion of a substantive and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. And if I may add, it has been a long time and it is a long wait,” Duterte said.
In 2019, the Asean and China completed the first reading of the draft of the code of conduct that was announced at the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Singapore a year earlier.
The code of conduct is expected to be finalized by 2021 to resolve conflicts in the resource-rich sea.
The South China Sea – a crucial passage for a significant portion of the world’s commercial shipping – is bordered by Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
China claims roughly 90 percent of the sea, which encompasses an area of about 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles).
‘Asean to build health emergency center’
Nguyen said the bloc has agreed to establish the Asean Center for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases with Japan’s assistance.
He said the project would enhance the capacity of member states to respond to medical emergencies and future epidemic threats.
Nguyen added that Asean nations were working together in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
He said some USD10 million have been pledged for the bloc’s Covid-19 Response Fund and the money would be used to assist any country when needed.
As of Thursday, more than 1 million coronavirus cases have been recorded across Southeast Asia, with its death toll nearing 25,000.
Indonesia, with nearly 450,000 cases and 15,000 fatalities, is the worst-hit country in the region. (Anadolu)