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Code of Conduct urged at ASEAN people’s forum
Acceleration of discussions for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea was urged by a Vietnamese participant in the ASEAN Civil Society Conference / ASEAN People’s Forum 2014 held in Yangon on March 21st–23rd.
In a presentation titled “Peace and security in Southeast Asia: Pressing need for a Code of Conduct”, Phạm Văn Chương, President of the Vietnam Committee for Asian-African-Latin American Solidarity and Cooperation, said:
“Not much time is left between us and the year 2015, when an ASEAN Political-Security Community is to be established by decision of ASEAN Leaders (ASEAN Summit, Philippines, 2007). Such a Community, according to its Blueprint, “will ensure that the peoples and Member States of ASEAN live in peace with one another and with the world at large” (Blueprint, Para. 6) and in a “cohesive, peaceful, stable and resilient region” (Blueprint, Para. 10.b).
However, for the people of many ASEAN countries, especially women and children, living in an environment of peace, stability and security remains a remote dream. Millions are still faced with grave threats – insecure livelihood, terrorist attacks, armed clashes, border conflicts, territorial and jurisdictional disputes, just to cite a few. Tension and military activities by non-regional powers in the South China Sea  have been a matter of serious concern. Inhabitants of islands and coastal areas, fisherfolk in particular, whose life is already shattered by frequent storms, have often fallen victim to brutal harassment at sea – from illtreatment, confiscation of fishing equipment to fishing bans and water cannon attack. A legally binding regional instrument to regulate the conduct of parties concerned in the South China Sea has thus become a pressing need.
The idea for such an instrument was first advanced in 1992 by ASEAN after clashes had broken out in different parts of the Sea between regional and non-regional naval forces resulting in heavy losses in human lives. In a Declaration issued on July 22nd in Manila, the Foreign Ministers of the then six ASEAN member states recommended that all parties concerned work “for establishing a code of international conduct over the South China Sea” (Point 4).
Ten years afterward, while ASEAN member states and China had failed to reach a legally binding code of conduct, they succeeded to sign a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC, Phnom Penh, November 4th, 2002), in which they “reaffirm that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region and agree to work, on the basis of consensus, toward the eventual attainment of this objective” (Point 10).
After another ten years, as such an instrument was yet to be seen, the Heads of State or Government of the ASEAN Ten and China undertook to “work together for the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea” (ASEAN-China Summit, Phnom Penh, November 19th, 2002, Joint Statement, Para. 8).
Last year, the ASEAN Leaders tasked their Foreign Ministers “to continue to work actively with China on the way forward for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC)…” (23rd ASEAN Summit, Brunei, April 24th-25th, 2013, Chairman’s Statement, Para. 60). The Foreign Ministers declared afterward that they “look forward to the formal consultations between ASEAN and China … with an aim to reach an early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” (AMM, Brunei, June 29th-30th, Joint Communique, Para. 91). Such consultations “must start as soon as possible”, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman once emphasized (Bernama News Agency, Aug. 29th, 2013).
All this did give rise to some hope and expectation.
Unfortunately, no tangible progress has been reported ever since. Much hope and expectation has been eroded. In the meantime, tension continues, military operations continue, harassment at sea continues, and men, women and children continue to live under threats. A legally binding instrument to regulate the conduct of parties in the South China Sea has become a pressing need.
Faced with such a situation, I deem it necessary to make the following recommendations:
1. That ASEAN member states and China accelerate consultations and discussions for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in accordance with internationally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
2. That, pending such an instrument, they fully abide by all documents to which they are parties, notably the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).
3. That they cooperate to enhance maritime security, including safety of navigation and maritime traffic, and refrain from all acts that may threaten the normal life and livehood of fisherfolk”./.





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