ASEAN and China adopt framework for crafting code on South China Sea.

Why in news?

Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China adopted on Sunday a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

Facts ( for Prelims)

  • The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea.
  • 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed on 4 November 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia by the Foreign Ministers
  • China has built seven man-made islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.
  • China’s sudden interest in the code after 15 years of delays is to drag out the negotiating process to buy time to complete its strategic objectives in the South China Sea, through which more than $3 billion of ship-borne trade passes annually.
  • The South China Sea is located at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, to Asia’s southeast. It encompasses an area of about 1.4 million square miles and contains a collection of reefs, islands and atolls, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal.


Analysis ( for Mains)

Reason behind disputes:

Beijing claims 90% of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5tn of ship-borne trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also contest China’s claims to islands and reef systems closer to their territory than Beijing’s.

China says it follows a historical precedent set by the “nine-dash line” that Beijing drew in 1947 following the surrender of Japan. The line has been included in subsequent maps issued under Communist rule.

ASEAN members stand:

  • Of the 10 ASEAN members, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei claim territory that also falls within China’s “nine-dash line.” Even these four states are not on the same page, with Vietnam and the Philippines vocally protesting China’s ‘aggression’ and Malaysia and Brunei keeping a much lower profile.
  • Indonesia often positions itself as a mediator, sometimes joined by Singapore. The others (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand) have little interest in becoming embroiled in disputes between China and their neighbors — especially as China accounts for over 12 percent of all ASEAN trade.
  • China is an especially lucrative partner for Cambodia, which received a promise of nearly $550 million in aid and for Myanmar, where China accounts for one-third of all foreign direct investment.


Drawbacks of the DOC:

  • Opponents also say it is being pushed through at a time when the United States, long seen as a crucial buffer against China’s maritime assertiveness, is distracted by other issues and providing no real clarity about its security strategy in Asia, thus weakening ASEAN’s bargaining position.
  • It urges a commitment to the “purposes and principles” of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) but does not specify adherence to it, for example.
  • Vietnam pushed for stronger, more specific text in the framework, wanting mention of a dispute resolution mechanism and respecting “sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction”. Sovereign rights cover entitlements to fish and extraction of natural resources.

Source : Diplomat.