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Jun 30, 2020 / 22:12

How has the pandemic affected COC negotiations?

No meeting regarding to Code of Conduct in the South China Sea has been held since the beginning of this year.

The 36th ASEAN Summit has closed with a reaffirmation to work actively towards the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

However, the pandemic has threatened the negotiation process of the COC that is based on a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed by China and the 10 ASEAN states.

 Emeritus professor Carl Thayer, the University of New South Wales, Canberra. Photo: VTCNews

Emeritus professor Carl Thayer, the University of New South Wales, Canberra has talked about the vision of the COC talks that seek to manage inter-state relations within the South China Sea area and address disputes over territorial claims in the contested waters.

He said “No planned negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct have taken place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The last ASEAN-China Senior Officials Meeting was held in October 2019 in Da Lat, Vietnam. Planned meetings in Brunei in February and the Philippines in May were not held, he added.

China is the direct beneficiary because it has steadily asserted its sovereignty over the South China Sea during the pandemic and created new “facts on the ground” such as creating two new administrative districts to administer the South China Sea, renaming eighty features in the sea, and challenging oil exploration by Malaysia.

“In other words, China has not exercised self-restraint but has taken advantage of Covid-19 to enhance its position and gain an advantage at the negotiating table, the professor emphasized.

 Negotiations for the COC have lasted for years

Regarding Vietnam’s role in promoting the COC negotiations and protect its interests, Mr. Thayer said the ASEAN-China Senior Officials Meeting on July 1 is set to agree on a new schedule of meetings on the COC for the remainder of the year.

This is also a move to facilitate Vietnam’s priority on the South China Sea and COC issue ahead of the China-ASEAN meeting scheduled for July 1, according to the professor.

These meeting should aim at concluding a second reading of the COC during Vietnam’s term as ASEAN Chair. As soon as health conditions permit, Vietnam should arrange to hold face-to-face meetings in place of videoconferencing.

Earlier at a briefing before the 36th ASEAN summit, Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung said that Vietnam and other ASEAN members will not “avoid the South China Sea and the Code of Conduct”, indicating that Vietnam will try its best to put the sea issue and the COC on the agenda.

“It’s regrettable that due to Covid-19 pandemic, we haven’t had any meeting regarding COC since the beginning of 2020,” Dung said in a press conference.

China recently intensified their military actions in the disputed waters, while on the diplomatic side, the US has submitted a diplomatic letter to the UN challenging China’s expansive and illegal claims in the resource-rich sea, joining the opposition conveyed by Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.