ASEAN, China to work on maritime Code of Conduct

Trade ties have significantly improved and tensions over the South China Sea have eased since Xi called Duterte’s October 2016 visit to Beijing a “milestone” in China-Philippine relations [Xinhua]

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

ASEAN, China move closer on South China Sea conflict resolution

China and ASEAN have for years been discussing a code of conduct in the South China Sea, but now they are closer than ever on a unified document [Xinhua]

The question of territorial rights in the South China Sea has taken center stage at the 20th China-ASEAN (10+1) leaders’ meeting hosted by the Philippine capital Manila, as it has in recent years.

But China is slowly making headway with its neighbors to resolve outstanding territorial disputes over access to the strategic body of water that straddles, Vietnam, Laos, Japan, Philippines and China.

On Tuesday, ASEAN leaders highlighted what they called positive developments in their relationship with China, particularly in areas of concern such as security and economy.

A statement from the Philippine Foreign Ministry said: “The leaders welcomed the positive developments in ASEAN-China dialogue relations in three areas of cooperation, namely, political-security, economic, and socio-cultural or people-to-people exchanges.”

This comes a day after China and the 10 ASEAN members announced that they would begin consultations on the wording of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.

Delegates at the ASEAN meeting also decided to establish a hotline between different governments involved in the South China Sea disputes to quickly resolve any maritime entanglements.

In a bid to increase cooperation and good conduct between all South China Sea countries, ASEAN also said it would hold maritime exercises with China.

Maritime disputes between China on the one hand and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan on the other have caused tensions in the region and often led to a war of words between Beijing and Washington.

Beijing claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Beijing has long accused Washington of meddling in the South China Sea. The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols near the disputed islands that have angered Beijing.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in October filed a formal complaint with US authorities in protest of a US naval destroyer crossing into territorial waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea near the Xisha Islands.

China has been in control of the Xisha Islands, also known as the Paracel Islands, since 1974, but announced the the baseline of territorial waters there in 1996.

Beijing says that guided missile destroyer the USS Chafee, entered its territory on Tuesday and carried out “freedom of navigation” maneuvers without Chinese consent.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Russia, US agree to Syria ceasefire amid Putin-Trump meeting

Both Putin and Trump wanted to extend their first meeting beyond the 140 minutes, US officials have said on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany [PPIO]

It was meant to last for half an hour but the first face-to-face meaning between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump last for more than two hours.

In a much anticipated meeting which US media had speculated would be a charged, high-stakes face-to-face, the two leaders exchanged pleasantries as if they were two old friends trying to work out a difference between them.

US officials said later that the two presidents appeared to have connected “fairly quickly” and could have continued for hours in engagement and exchange.

“It’s an honor to meet you,” Trump told Putin as they began their 140-minute meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, according to Russian officials.

Bi-partisan voices in Washington had demanded that Trump raise the issue of alleged Russian tampering in the 2016 US elections with his counterpart.

According to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a press briefing following the meeting with Putin, Trump did raise the issue in a “robust” way.

Putin vehemently denied any Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, according to Tillerson.

For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – who also attended the meeting of the two presidents – said the issue of cyber security was prominent during the talks.

“The presidents agreed that this area is becoming more and more risky, if you like, threats are emerging, like the terror threat, threats in other areas of organized crime, as well as threats to the normal way of functioning of societies,” Lavrov told journalists in a separate press briefing according to Russian media reports.

Both Lavrov and Tillerson highlighted the success of the talks, with the latter saying that both countries had different approaches to resolving the same issues, but that they were in agreement about their common goals.

But the bulk of the talks between Putin and Trump focused on Syria, a highly contentious issue since Washington fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after accusing the government of using chemical weapons against civilians two months ago.

The Russians denied that this happened but Washington last week warned that Syrian government forces were about to launch another such attack.

Half-way through the Putin-Trump meeting, the Associated Press announced that it had been informed by Washington officials that Russia and the US had agreed to a ceasefire in southwest Syria beginning noon on July 9.

Later news reports indicated that Jordan would join Russia and the United States in implementing the ceasefire. Lavrov later revealed that the ceasefire implementation would be ensured by all three countries, but that Russian military police would be tasked – in coordination with Jordan and the US – with security.

Tillerson hailed the ceasefire announcement as an indication that both Russia and the United States are capable of working together to deescalate the conflict in Syria.

However, he said that there would be no room in the long-term for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to play a role in the political transition process after hostilities come to an end.

On Ukraine, Tillerson said that the US agreed to a Russian request to appoint an American special envoy on the Ukraine crisis.

Lavrov said that Putin and Trump had agreed to establish a channel of communication on Ukraine and that the steps forward to resolve the crisis there would be based on the Minsk agreements signed two years ago.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies