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Progress on South China Sea code

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Protesters chant anti-China slogans as they march towards the Chinese consulate in Manila’s Makati financial district earlier this month in the Philippines. Photograph: Reuters

An Asean working group yesterday finalised key elements of a Code of Conduct aimed at governing relations between countries who claim sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea, officials said.

The waters, rich in natural resources and prized as a shipping route, figured prominently at the ASEAN summit hosted last month by Cambodia, as China and ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines have aggressively contested ownership over portions of the waters.

The most recent stand-off in the sea began in early April when the Philippines claimed Chinese fishing boats were illegally going after protected species in a shoal about 100 miles west of the country’s coast.

Raul Hernandez, a foreign affairs spokesman for the Philippines, told the Associated Press that the number of Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal increased to 96 on Tuesday.

He said that the Philippines has only two vessels there. Both countries lay claim to the area.

While approximately 50 officials from ASEAN convened for yesterday’s meeting at Phnom Penh’s Intercontinental Hotel, they were largely mum about what was discussed.

“The working group has concluded all key elements for drafting the COC and hopefully, the drafting of the COC will be adopted…and ASEAN will take it to negotiate with China,” said Cambodia’s Nong Sakal, deputy director-general of ASEAN’s General Department at the Foreign Ministry.

“During the meeting, we discussed only the wording that is going to be used and need to find out the consensus for further implementation of the COC,” Nong Sakal said, adding that the COC is a tool for building confidence, cooperation and friendship between ASEAN and China.

Philippines working group representative Henry Bensurto declined to elaborate on the key elements that his group proposed at the meeting.

The final draft is expected at China’s door by July, according to Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia who has studied the issue closely.

He said are three likely outcomes.

“They reach a compromise and submit it to China and it is accepted. They reach an agreement that the Philippines won’t accept,” and lastly, an agreement goes to China and negotiations continue indefinitely.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at sokheng.vong@phnompenhpost.com

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