Southeast Asian leaders reported new progress in talks aimed at creating an agreement to prevent conflict in the South China Sea.
Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN met last weekend in Bangkok, Thailand. The talks centered on security, trade and territorial issues related to the disputed South China Sea.
ASEAN and China began talks in 2002 to negotiate a nonaggression agreement called the “code of conduct.” It is to reduce tensions and prevent armed clashes in the South China Sea.
Four ASEAN nations have territorial claims to parts of the sea, an important waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade passes each year. China claims nearly the whole area as its own territory.
Several claimants have criticized China for using undersea landforms to build manmade islands in the sea. China has placed military structures and equipment on some of the islands.
In a statement issued after the Bangkok meeting, ASEAN leaders said they were “encouraged” by the latest progress in talks with China to negotiate the code of conduct. The statement said, “We welcomed efforts to complete the first reading of the single draft negotiating text by this year.”
ASEAN leaders have reported similar progress in the past. One year ago, ASEAN member states said in a final meeting statement they had agreed with China on a “negotiating text” for the code of conduct. At that time, Singapore’s foreign minister described the progress as a “milestone.” China welcomed the text as a “breakthrough.”
Several Asian security experts see progress in recent years as a sign that a final agreement might happen soon. Others, however, believe the negotiations will continue for years to come.
Eduardo Araral is a professor at the National University of Singapore’s School of Public Policy. He told VOA he sees signs that ASEAN leaders and China are moving closer to completing a code of conduct deal.
“If you’re looking at the code of conduct since 2002, that’s about 17 years, so that would be a very big milestone if that would pass,” Araral said. He added that ASEAN leaders are now putting the issue at the top of their discussion list. “There should be momentum when the leaders meet again in November,” he said.
Termsak Chalermpalanupap is with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. He noted that several top Chinese officials have predicted a code of conduct agreement may be reached in less than three years. He said he, too, believes this is possible.
Southeast Asian diplomats have told the Associated Press the first three rounds of talks on the proposed agreement were expected to be completed this year. But they said more difficult issues are likely to be discussed in final rounds at a later date. Those issues include whether the agreement should be legally enforceable and if it should cover the entire disputed area, the diplomats said.
China has praised the negotiations as an example of how Asian nations can work together to resolve conflicts peacefully.
But critics have questioned whether such a code can truly work, given China’s increasingly aggressive moves in the South China Sea in recent years. They say China had no problem moving forward with construction of islands in disputed areas even though it is part of a 2002 agreement that opposes such actions.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press and VOA News. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
conduct – n.a way of behaving, a way to carry something out
encourage – v.attempt to make someone more likely to do something
draft – n.a piece of writing that is not yet in its finished form
text – n.written words
milestone – n.an important event or development
breakthrough – n.an important discovery
momentum – n.the strength or force that allows something to continue