March 16, 2017 11:22 pm JST

Australia's Bishop gives sermon to ASEAN on diplomacy

'Arbitration has set out some very clear recommendations'

CLIFF VENZON, Nikkei staff writer

MANILA -- Julie Bishop, the Australian foreign minister, called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Thursday to heed a landmark arbitration court decision last year when a fresh code of conduct to handle territorial disputes in the South China Sea is drafted.

"That arbitration sets out a very clear advice on what gives rise to a maritime claim and clarified the situation in the South China Sea," Bishop said in a speech in Manila during a four-day tour that also took in Singapore and Malaysia. Bishop is scheduled to meet President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao on Friday.

"We believe that ASEAN should drive for an enforceable code of conduct," she added. "The arbitration has set out some very clear recommendations and findings that can form the basis of a code of conduct."

In July, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands decided against China's claim to nearly the entire South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as by Taiwan. Beijing has never accepted the court in Europe's jurisdiction and rejected the ruling.

Bishop's comments came after diplomats from ASEAN and China met in Bali last month to formulate a code of conduct for South China Sea disputes.

Diplomats expect a new framework to emerge by the middle of the year. In 2002, China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and agreed to adopt a legally binding code of conduct to manage maritime tensions. The area has continued to be regarded as a potential flashpoint, however, since China has undertaken major land reclamations in at least seven areas, installing runways and defensive positions on the artificially created islands.

Enrique Manalo, the acting Philippine foreign minister, told reporters that the negotiators will be focusing on "cooperative mechanisms" when drafting the framework.

"What we will be guided by are many elements which would tend to provide a basis for promoting more cooperation in the South China Sea ... [and] provide greater stability ... [and] avoid raising tensions," he said.

Bishop also reminded ASEAN of its mission to promote regional peace and stability.

"ASEAN should never underestimate the moral force it can exert in the form of collective diplomatic pressure on countries that might think or behave against that mission," Bishop said, without naming China or any other country specifically.

During her tour, the Australian diplomat spoke about the importance of adhering to rules-based international norms as China's growing military might and economic clout threaten to disrupt the global order Canberra favors. Bishop also urged Washington to maintain constant engagement with Asia despite President Donald Trump's America-first policy.

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