MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said the prospective code of conduct in the South China Sea would be the way to go in modulating tension among several claimant nations on scores of islands and islets there, explaining that waging war against China is hardly a desirable option.
As the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit came to a close on Tuesday, November 14, Duterte said the 10-member nations and China have agreed to endorse a framework of the code of conduct – one of the expected highlights of the Chairman’s statement that could be released on November 15.
“China has graciously agreed to the code of conduct, and it binds itself to the agreement,” he said at a news conference, describing it as a “promise” that is “unbridled, unfettered.”
He said the ASEAN Summit was the best time to discuss the code because several member nations are claimants to South China Sea.
“We [the Philippines and China] have our own arbitral agreement, but that only binds the two of us. It does not apply to the overlapping territories farther south, which are also being claimed by Malaysia and Indonesia,” he said, adding that Taiwan also has territorial claims in the vast strategic body of water west of the Philippine archipelago.
“So, if you talk to China alone, by the time you have solved the dispute, there are other claimants, and you can’t bind them. So, we have to wait for the time when everybody is present and tell them to abide by the code,” Duterte said.
The code of conduct is to contain a set of rules outlining the norms and rules and responsibilities of, or proper practices for, an individual, party or organization.
ASEAN and China agreed to set up a code of conduct in the South China Sea during a 2002 summit amid heightened tensions in the disputed waters. The region in question includes one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.
Duterte said even US President Donald Trump, who also attended the summit, told the region to “talk to China” because “they are your friends.”
“As of now, we are not ready to fight,” Duterte said, stressing the need for peaceful resolution to the conflict as the region faces another concern from North Korea’s nuclear program.
“We cannot afford to go to war, nobody has that luxury … No one will win here, we will all lose,” he said.