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South China Sea Code of Conduct: All you need to know

Tulika Tandon

The South China Sea was a highlight of the recent ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus with everyone acceding to the requirement of peace and security in the disputed area. The delegates unanimously called for the unity of the defence sector.  Indian Minister S. Jaishankar supported the idea of the COC being consistent with the UNCLOS. Take a look at his tweet below. 

Stressed that Code of Conduct on South China Sea should be fully consistent with UNCLOS 1982. Should not prejudice legitimate rights and interests of nations not party to discussions.

— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) August 4, 2021

Supported the ASEAN five-point consensus on Myanmar and welcomed the appointment of Special Envoy.

Noted the growing Covid-19 challenge faced by ASEAN and conveyed our support and solidarity.

— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) August 4, 2021

China and the ASEAN nations have come to an agreement that to keep the peace in the nation, the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) is essential. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an address, the biggest troublemaker in a disputed way. She also spoke against external interference in the sea pointing to the US. 

The sea is an important part of the world trade route with almost 1/3rd trade taking place through its waters. 

South China Sea Code Of Conduct: Negotiations

These have already been delayed by a year due to Covid 19 pandemic. It was proposed to be held in Indonesia this year, but as the pandemic worsened, the event had to be postponed. 

During a virtual summit with his counterparts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Tuesday, Wang also warned against “external interference” in the South China Sea, in a pointed rebuke to the US. Up to a third of world trade passes through the contentious waters, which are subject to a number of competing claims.

The negotiations resumed on the code of conduct which “demonstrated once again that as long as the common political will to move forward with consultations is maintained, no difficulty can stand in our way, whether it be a raging epidemic or external interference,” according to a Chinese foreign ministry readout.

Whereas, other countries including India are stressing on the importance of the Code of Conduct in the South China sea being consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, China insisted on no external interference. 

The issues that COC must take into account:

Agreement on the scope of COC geographically: A strong agreement is required to establish the geographical scope of the COC on a global platform. This means that the whole world must agree to what is decided and not just China talking on its own. 

Any claim that is not recognised by UNCLOS 1982 cannot be considered and be acceptable. Unless the geographical scope is accepted, it would not be formalised. 

If COC is legally binding: The COC being legally binding is another issue that needs to be taken into account. The COC will be more effective if all parties consider it to be a legally binding document. This would help in dispute settlement later. 

Also, regardless of the legal acceptance, more crucial would be building a monitoring mechanism and a compliance mechanism that would ensure the COC's effectiveness. 

Lastly, there must be a dispute settlement mechanism so that the inconsistencies in the conduct can be addressed and improved. 

Also Read| Explained: China's vested interests and increasing hegemony in the Pacific region

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