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The Philippines is courting its neighbors to draft a law on the South China Sea


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MANILA (Reuters) – The President of the Philippines said on Monday that his country has addressed its neighbors such as Malaysia and Vietnam to discuss a separate code of conduct regarding the South China Sea, noting limited progress towards concluding a broader regional agreement with China.

Relations between the two countries have become more tense under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has increasingly complained of China’s “aggressive” behavior while reviving strong ties with the United States, the Philippines’ only treaty ally.

Speaking in Hawaii at a live-streamed event, Marcos said escalating tension in the South China Sea requires the Philippines to partner with allies and neighbors to maintain peace in the busy waterway, where the situation is now “even more dangerous.”

“We are still waiting for the China-ASEAN Code of Conduct, and progress has been rather slow unfortunately,” Marcos said, referring to the efforts of the Southeast Asian group.

“We have taken the initiative to reach out to other ASEAN countries with whom we have existing regional conflicts, Vietnam being one, Malaysia being the other, and to develop our own code of conduct.

“We hope this will grow further and extend to other ASEAN countries.”

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The embassies of China, Malaysia and Vietnam in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the potential code.

China said that drafting a code of conduct in the South China Sea is an important task for it and for ASEAN countries.

But a Foreign Ministry spokesman warned at a regular press conference that “any step that deviates from the framework and contravenes the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea is null and void.”

Marcos’ comments came following his meeting on Friday with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in San Francisco.

The two leaders discussed ways to ease tension in the disputed strategic waters after a series of confrontations this year.

In the past few years, ASEAN and China have been working to create a framework for negotiating a code of conduct, a plan dating back to 2002. But progress has been slow despite commitments by all parties to advance and accelerate the process.

Intermittent confrontations

Talks have not yet begun on the components of the code, amid concerns about the extent to which China, which claims ownership of most of the South China Sea, will comply with a binding set of rules that ASEAN countries want to harmonize with existing international law.

China asserts its claim on its maps using the “nine-dotted line” that runs up to 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) south of its mainland, cutting through the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Philippines and Vietnam.

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Manila and Beijing have been engaged in off-and-on confrontations for years as China has become more assertive in pressing its maritime claims, alarming neighbors and other countries operating on the key trade route, such as the United States.

China has turned submerged coral reefs into military facilities equipped with radar, runways and missile systems, some of which are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“The closest reefs that the PLA is starting to show interest in…to build bases are getting closer and closer to the Philippine coast,” Marcos said, referring to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.

“The situation has become more dangerous than it was before.”

In response, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “China’s construction activities on its territory are entirely within China’s sovereignty, and other countries have no right to make irresponsible remarks.”

Marcos added that the United States “has always been behind us… not only in terms of rhetoric, but also in terms of tangible support.”

Additional reporting by Mikhail Flores and Liz Li in Beijing – Prepared by Mikhail Flores for the Arabic Bulletin Editing by Martin Beatty and Clarence Fernandez

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