While the Philippines again did not raise its arbitral victory on the West Philippine sea before heads of states in the 35th ASEAN summit, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo however said that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte scored big when he pushed the passage of a Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN to ease tensions in the disputed territories of the Spratlys Island Group.
Duterte’s call is significant because such a Code of Conduct might help mitigate tensions between ASEAN claimant countries and China ahead of a regional free trade agreement in 2020. The Philippine president, however, is not the first to call for such a measure. This Code of Conduct has been in the woodworks since the early 2000’s when China began to move its assets significantly in the area leading to the occupation of several islands claimed by the Philippines.
Just recently, China and Vietnam had a standoff when Vietnam protested the presence of a survey ship which reportedly conducted several geologic studies near the Paracels which are being claimed by the latter. China acceded on Vietnam’s protest after a month.
China claims the entire Spratlys island as part of its patrimony and therefore exercises rights over the area based on some ancient maps which the Philippines disputed by presenting much older maps that show these islands to belong to the former Spanish colony.
Most ASEAN states favor a Code of Conduct to govern activities in these disputed islands group and assure the steady and uninterrupted flow of goods and trade in the region. Billions of dollars worth of global trade pass every single day in these parts and without a code of conduct, tensions among ASEAN states might affect the integrity of the free trade zone being created in ASEAN and China.