Indonesia pushes for legally binding Code of Conduct, urges need for South China Sea 'hotline'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 27) — Indonesia hopes that it can play a vital role in accelerating the negotiations for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea this year, according to Indonesian Ambassador Agus Widjojo.

Indonesia is currently the chairman of this year's Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A joint working group of diplomats gathered in Jakarta earlier this month to discuss the status of the code.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines, Indonesia's envoy to the country Agus Widjojo said that while the negotiations are progressing, there is still much work to be done.

"We are entering the third part of the 1/3 of the COC," said Widjojo. "But in diplomacy, it could be anything. The most important is the parties are willing to meet each other and talk to each other."

Widjojo also gave a preview of what could be the biggest challenge in finalizing the COC.

"The parties involved in the negotiations have foundation and perspective," the Indonesian envoy said.

"If you have differences, how could you meet? So, it's important to have a basis for win-win approach, win-win interest, and a balance of interests between all parties concerned," he explained.

Widjojo said that Indonesia remains committed to intensifying the negotiations for the COC in order to come up with an "effective and credible COC."

"Indonesia expects the COC that reflects international norms, and aligned to international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," added Widjojo.

The Indonesian ambassador said that they are also pushing for a legally binding code.

"I don't know if there is other alternative than making it legally binding. We hope that the code of conduct would be legally binding for all parties concerned," he added.

According to the ambassador, Indonesia is also in favor of the proposal to establish a security hotline between ASEAN and China to address South China Sea issues while the COC is still in the works.

"It's a modality to neutralize any sharp conflicts coming out in the region whether by accidents or incidents. A security hotline will manage tensions in the South China Sea," Widjojo stressed.

It has been over two decades since ASEAN and China agreed to come up with a code of conduct that will help manage tensions in the South China Sea, especially from the disputes arising from regional claimants Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

In 2002, a "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" was signed and was intended to be followed by a formal code, but as of this writing, discussions are still ongoing.