South China Sea remains a concern


By Mergawati Zulfakar, The Star/ANN

KUALA LUMPUR — The South China Sea issue continues to be a hotly debated issue at ASEAN meetings and the issue will be one of the points expected to be raised at the 30th ASEAN Summit.

The framework of the code of conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea being finalized by ASEAN and China may be adopted next month when senior officials meet. But concerns remain on “developments” still taking place in the hotly contested maritime area. ASEAN and Chinese officials have met twice this year — in Bali and Siem Reap in February and March — to work on the draft. But some officials fear the CoC, when it is finally adopted, will be less “valuable” as China, which is also claiming the area, continues with its development plans. The South China Sea issue continues to be a hotly debated issue at ASEAN meetings as four of its members — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — are claimant countries. Taiwan is another claimant country. “Since an announcement was made to complete the framework by the middle of this year, China has continued its work in the claimed area while officials are having talks on the framework. “Construction is still ongoing as well as deployment of assets. Some of us are skeptical of the CoC, but it is still important to have it to ensure all claimant countries behave,” said an ASEAN official. The issue will be one of the points expected to be raised at the 30th ASEAN Summit tomorrow, to be hosted by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. In the draft of the chairman’s statement for the summit, ASEAN leaders continued to share serious concerns over recent developments and escalation of activities in the area, which may further raise tensions and erode trust and confidence in the region. The leaders are also expected to touch on the progress to complete the framework of the CoC.