The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) former secretary Albert del Rosario said South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) should incorporate the 2016 Hague ruling to ensure that China will not undermine the arbitral ruling. 

“The Hague Ruling on the Philippines’ case in the South China Sea should be an integral part of a binding Code of Conduct,” he said during his speech at the ADR Startbase forum on the South China Sea code. 

“Our region cannot promote the rule of law while ignoring the law as it stands,” Del Rosario pointed out. 

The former DFA chief asked the ASEAN states exert “utmost vigilance” to make sure that China will not use the COC to undermine the Hague ruling, which favored the Philippines and invalidated China’s claim to the disputed sea. 

Del Rosario, who was the foreign secretary when the Philippines filed its historic case against China, said the ruling was now an “integral part of international law… which China is obligated to comply [with] as a State Party.”

The said COC includes a set of guidelines every Southeast Asian country with claims in the South China Sea, including China, shall follow in order to avoid dispute. This code was based upon the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea that China ad ASEAN states signed in 2002. 

ASEAN leaders and China agreed to discuss matters regarding COC in 2017, but delays interrupted the completion of the COC, almost two decades have passed since they agreed to create it.  

Maritime disputes

Moreover, Del Rosario also warned that the due to “evolving geopolitical struggles” in the region, “rules-based and peacefully co-existent ASEAN architecture” was at risk, citing the tight situation in the South China Sea. 

According to him, without an existing COC, China’s scheme when it comes to maritime area will “persistently push the existing entitlements under international law of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam into more turbulent waters.”

So far, the South China is considered as one of the world’s most unstable maritime areas, as specialists warn maritime incidents may force disputes among states. 

China has already used its aggressive tactics among ASEAN countries that share claim over the disputed sea. These have been evident in Malaysia, Vietnam, and in the Philippines where Chinese vessels circulated around the exclusive economic zones of the said countries recently. 

“The ASEAN should stress that the South China Sea is nobody’s backyard or exclusive preserve. Failure to do so would severely narrow ASEAN’s options and make it over-dependent on a single player,” Del Rosario said.

In addition, he urged ASEAN nations to keep their unity and engage countries outside the region, including China, the US, Japan, India, and Europe, among others, and “contain their rival ambitions in our region.”

“We must discourage them from dividing us; for ASEAN to have centrality, it must have solidarity,” he said.

In August 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte earlier brought up the Hague ruling with President Xi Jinping during his visit in China.

As his response to Duterte, Xi just reiterated his China’s position of not considering the arbitral ruling which invalidated their claim to West Philippine Sea.


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