The draft framework of the code of conduct was made final at an Asean and China senior officials meeting in May in southwestern China’s Guizhou province.
Details about the framework’s content have not been released to the public since. The Chinese foreign ministry has said this non-action could keep outside interference away. It did not name the US, whose Asia Pacific policy has remained partially fuzzy since US President Donald Trump took power in January, triggering widespread concern among Southeast Asian nations.
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In May, Singaporean Foreign Minister Chee Wee Kiong said the draft framework had “positive momentum” and that he hoped to make “steady progress toward a substantive code of conduct”.
A draft of the text leaked by the media describes the envisioned agreement as “a set of norms to guide the conduct of parties and promote maritime cooperation in the South China Sea”. It is “not an instrument to settle territorial disputes.”
Regional experts and diplomats believe the agreement’s framework will be more symbolic in content than substantive.
“Many principles, such as peaceful solving disputes, have been approved by different parties even without the framework,” said Zhang Mingliang of Jinan University.
Robespierre Bolivar, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, told reporters in Manila on Tuesday that the framework would be an outline. He did not specifically mention the arbitration decision in which The Hague’s Permanent Court ruled against China’s territorial claims and its massive reclamation activities in the region.