Thayer China and the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea

An assessment of China's apparent willingness to meet with ASEAN collectively to discuss a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea and an evaluation of the visit of new Foreign Minister Wang Li to the region.
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    Background Briefing:China and the Code of Conductfor the South China SeaCarlyle A. ThayerMay 5, 2013 [client name deleted]We request your assessment on some points relating to recent Chinese suggestionsto resume discussions with ASEAN on a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea(COC).1- Why has China expressed their willingness at this time? Is this really a goodwillgesture? ANSWER: China’s agreement to hold a meeting in August of the Working Group on the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) at Director -General level to discuss the COC is a positive initial step. Up to now China hasrefused to enter into substantive discussions on the COC in a multilateral setting. Butit should be noted that the Working Group will also discuss the DOC. China is likely tomake a linkage between progress on the DOC before moving forward on the COC. China will argue that the attitudes and behaviour of “some countries” violates thespirit of the DOC and until this is rectified no progress on the COC can be made.China has appointed a new foreign minister, Wang Li, who has extensive diplomaticexperience in dealing with Southeast Asia. His appointment was well-received in theregion. His visit is an opportunity to cash in on the goodwill generated by hisappointment.But the Foreign Ministry is not the center of power in China today. It is likely theForeign Minister will attempt to do some “damage limitation” caused by China’s past behaviour. China is also responding to approaches from ASEAN Chair Brunei,Indonesia and the ASEAN foreign ministers to begin discussions on the COC.2- Vietnam's Foreign Deputy Minister Pham Quang Vinh said that China and ASEANare going to have special meetings of foreign ministers around August andSeptember this year, to discuss South China Sea, on the occasion of 10th anniversaryof China-ASEAN strategic partnership. Do you think discussions on the COC will makereal progress? ANSWER: This important first step is to be welcomed. But China’s basic position towards the nine-dash line has not altered. The Chinese media accuse the Philippinesof hijacking China-ASEAN relations in order to stir up trouble in the South China Sea.Chinese media also accuse the Philippines of illegally occupying Chinese territory and Thayer Consultancy ABN # 65 648 097 123  2 encouraging external powers (the US) to interfere. This seems to indicate that Chinawill use diplomacy to try and isolate the Philippines within ASEAN in order to bringpressure to bear for Manila to drop its claim to the United Nations.3 - How do think the South China Sea issue will be discussed in Shangri La Dialogue tobe held in Singapore at the end of this May? What attitude will the United Statesadopt?ANSWER: The South China Sea is not on the formal agenda but will be discussed in abreakout session on maritime security. It is likely to be raised when it is of relevanceto regional security issues discussed in plenary session. It is up to Prime MinisterNguyen Tan Dung in the opening keynote dinner address to raise the South ChinaSea issue and to present not only Vietnam’s view but practical suggestions for the way ahead. If the Prime Minister side steps the South China Sea issue discussions arelikely to turn to other security issues.The United States will play a low key role and back ASEAN and its efforts to negotiatea legally binding Code of Conduct. The US will be more focused on North Korea andimproving its relations with China, a major topic at this year’s Shangri -La Dialogue. Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “ China and the Code of Conduct for the SouthChina Sea ,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief  , May 5, 2013. Thayer Consultancy Background Briefs are archived at Scribd.com

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Nov 17, 2017


Nov 17, 2017
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