Philippine PXP Energy Eager to Resume South China Sea Drilling

Ashley Carr
August 9, 2017

China and ASEAN said they both agreed Sunday to a framework for talks on a "code of conduct" in the disputed South China Sea, but the Southeast Asian side indirectly criticized Beijing's territorial expansion there in an unusual statement.

The foreign ministers of North Korea and South Korea spoke face-to-face at a gala in Manila Sunday night, according to South Korean media reports, at a time of heightened tensions over Pyongyang's missile program. The leaders of the ASEAN countries would be meeting this Sunday in Philippine's capital Manila to discuss a wide variety of issues. They said they have tasked senior officials to start negotiating on the Code of Conduct with China.

Vietnam urged other Southeast Asian nations to take a stronger stand against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, as a tense regional security forum began Saturday with North Korea also under fire over its nuclear programme.

"We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea", the ministers said in the 46-page document.

Several ASEAN diplomats said that among the members who pushed for a communique that retained the more contentious elements was Vietnam, which has competing claims with China over the Paracel and Spratly archipelago and has had several spats with Beijing over energy concessions.

Astride the world's busiest and most strategic shipping lanes, the region was the fulcrum of the administration's rebalancing toward Asia.

The framework papers over the big differences between ASEAN nations and China, said Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security.

"Ultimately, President Moon Jae-in is a strong believer on dialogue and wants to get things on a different track with North Korea", said John Delury, an associate professor at Yonsei University's Graduate School of global Studies in Seoul.

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (fifth from left) with his Asean counterparts at the signing of a memorandum of understanding on the Asean-China Centre in Manila yesterday.

The code of conduct framework was useful to build confidence, said Philippine security expert Rommel Banlaoi, but was not enough to manage and prevent conflict in the South China Sea.

He stressed that China supports ASEAN to continue to play a central role in regional cooperation. "And we will work out regional rules that we mutually agreed upon so as to open up a bright future for our future relations".

Some critics and diplomats told Reuters that China's sudden interest in starting negotiations for the COC after 15 years of delays is meant to buy time to complete its strategic objectives in the South China Sea.

The Philippines calls the framework a major step in efforts to ease potential flashpoints.

Although it's not an ASEAN member, China can exert its influence on allies like ASEAN member Cambodia to reject any move it deems inimical to its interests. "But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language".

He added that Japan hopes for a legally binding COC. Tensions flared alarmingly in recent years over China's island-building works in one of the most disputed regions, where US naval and aerial patrols have challenged Beijing's claims.

As expected at the ASEAN annual meeting this year, the Korean Peninsula has been overshadowed by the South China Sea dispute, which has dominated the ASEAN agenda since 2010.

Other reports by My Hot News

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