DFA exec: Progress on South China Sea code of conduct unlikely during ASEAN summit

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — An official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday said talks on the long-delayed South China Sea code of conduct (COC) during the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit will possibly be limited to mere reporting of past discussions.

Asked if progress on the COC can be expected during the 43rd ASEAN summit in Indonesia from Sept. 5 to 7, Assistant Secretary Daniel Espiritu said this is unlikely given the short period of time.

“I think during the summit, napakaiksi ng panahon [the period of time is very short],” Espiritu told reporters in a briefing.

“At most there will be a reporting on what happened during the last meeting in the Philippines of the joint working group on the COC, but nothing definitive yet,” he added. “It's a very methodical process, so hindi natin dapat madaliin ito [this should not be rushed].”

Espiritu was referring to the third round of COC negotiations held in Manila from Aug. 22 to 24. He said among those tackled in last week's meetings is the ongoing discussion on whether or not the COC should be legally binding.

In July, the Associated Press — which cited a Southeast Asian diplomat who asked not to be named — reported that the ASEAN and China have resolved to try to conclude the COC within three years.

Beijing's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea clash with those of four ASEAN member-states: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

For decades, the Southeast Asian nations have been pushing for a legally binding COC in the area, but critics said progress has been slow due to resistance from China.