Southeast Asia’s diplomats will discuss a proposed nonaggression pact with China to calm tension over the South China Sea at the 50th Asean ministerial meeting in the Philippines starting on Saturday.
The main goal is to negotiate a code of conduct with China.
Asean ministers will ask their senior diplomats “to begin earnest discussions on a substantive and effective code of conduct on the basis of the framework as soon as possible,” according to the draft communique obtained by the Associated Press.
Aside from clashes between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea, ministers are also expected to discuss North Korea’s continued missile tests and the rise of Islamic radicalism in the region.
Robespierre Bolivar, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the prospect of a code of conduct with China marks “a very big step”.
The draft communique notes the importance of Chinese restraint in the South China Sea dispute:
We reaffirmed the importance of enhancing mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint … and avoiding unilateral actions in disputed features that may further complicate the situation.
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, who is Asean chairman this year, has shown a willingness to improve his country’s relationship with China over the past few years.
ASEAN was formed by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand in 1967 as a bulwark against the rise of communism in Vietnam.