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International relations

China, ASEAN still far from South China Sea code of conduct

Leaders endorse framework after 17 years, but the 'legally binding' question remains

China has created concrete landscapes on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea that were previously little more than reefs and sand bars. REUTERS/Erik De Castro   © Reuters

MANILA -- The leaders of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have formally endorsed the framework adopted by their foreign ministers in August for a code of conduct (COC) to handle overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The agreement at the end of a summit in the Philippine capital early this week comes 17 years after all parties first agreed in principle to adopt a code of conduct, but the process is far from concluded. A working group will resume negotiations in March in Vietnam before anything further goes up to ministerial level. It is also not clear if the final COC will be legally binding.

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