China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to begin work on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, the media in the Philippines reported Wednesday.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou was in the capital Manila on Tuesday to meet with his Philippine counterpart to discuss security issues in the South China Sea, and the two said that discussions over the Code would begin in early March.
China and the Philippines were involved in a territorial spat over rights to that body of water two years ago.
In 2015, the International Court of arbitration in The Hague ruled that China’s historic claims to most of the South China Sea were invalid.
China called the ruling a farce and said it would not recognize it as it was issued unilaterally, and initiated by the former Philippine government.
But in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became president, effectively reversing tension over the South China Sea territorial disputes.
On Tuesday, Kong and Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Enrique Manalo issued a statement which reaffirmed freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea.
The two countries have established a Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) to deal with the South China Sea maritime territory.
“There were intensive discussions on mutually beneficial joint initiatives and consensus on the convening of technical working groups in the areas of fisheries, oil and gas, marine scientific research and marine environmental protection, and political security, in the framework of the BCM,” a statement jointly issued by both diplomats said.
Last year, the two countries signed a $1.7 billion trade deal.
In the meantime, ASEAN and Chinese defense officials are planning to hold their first joint naval drills in the South China Sea later in 2018.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies