Guideline for Conduct Pact in the South China Sea OK'd

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May

China and countries belonging to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed on a new set of rules that will reduce friction involving the South China Sea.

The guidelines, which are regarded as a milestone, were passed during a two-day meeting of senior officials in Guiyang, the capital city of China's southwest Guizhou Province.

The United States has criticized what it has called China's militarization of its maritime outposts and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing.

All countries involved have agreed not to release the framework document, but to maintain it as an internal document at this time since the consultation will continue and they do not want any external interference, Liu said.

Experts say China wants to appear to engage ASEAN or bind its claimant states to a weak code at a time when US policy on the South China Sea is in a state of flux. "Is it concerned about the stability of the South China Sea, or is it afraid of China-Philippines and China-ASEAN relations developing as the situation stabilizes?" In this regard, in addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms, a bilateral consultation mechanism can be useful, which will meet regularly on current and other issues of concern to either side on the South China Sea. The talks had been candid and deep and made positive achievements, it said in a statement.

The issue concerning the South China Sea lately became a regional and global issue for those with common interests such as the developments in the South China Sea, terrorism and extremism, maritime security and other security issues.

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Duterte's approach differs from that of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who looked to the USA for support, including in Manila's bid to take China to court over South China Sea territorial disputes.

But under President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June 2016, the Philippines has pivoted toward Beijing - seeing China as a source of much needed investment - and away from the U.S., which, despite a mutual defense treaty, Duterte regards as an unreliable ally.

The draft framework will be presented to the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China at their post-ministerial conference in Manila in August "for their consideration", the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement issued yesterday.

The reef is one of the several Chinese-controlled features in the South China Sea where China has carried out reclamation work. Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several ASEAN members including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, a key shipping lane that is believed to be rich in marine and mineral resources.

The Philippines last month hosted the 30 ASEAN summit, which was highlighted by a watered-down communique that evaded reference to China's maritime encroachment in the South China Sea.

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