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Assurance of good conduct | The Freeman

Assurance of good conduct | The Freeman

According to reports, the Philippines and China have agreed that a code of conduct in the disputed areas in the South China Sea will go a long way to secure and maintain peace and stability in the region.

The agreement was apparently reached after Chinese defense chief Wei Fenghe paid a courtesy call to President Rodrigo Duterte for his stop here during his tour of four Southeast Asian countries.

This is not a new idea. As far 2018, there have been proposals as to a code of conduct regarding the disputed areas. However, no such code has ever been made or enforced.

Because this code Wei and Duterte are referring to doesn’t exist yet, there are no details. We don’t know whether or not they are talking about a code just between the Philippines and China, or one that also proposes to include other countries with claims in the South China Sea like Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Another possible party to such a code --which, again, still doesn’t exist yet-- is the US. We say this because the US has a stake when it comes to the freedom of navigation in the region, and also because it is currently stepping up making its military presence felt in the disputed area.

It should be mentioned that a code of conduct that dictates what claimants can and cannot do in the disputed areas may indeed foster security and maintain peace and stability in the region. However, such a code will have to be fair to all parties that have a claim in the disputed areas of the South China Sea.

We say it has to be fair to all concerned because China is already negotiating from a position of advantage. Don’t forget that it already has structures and bases in some of the disputed areas. These structures and bases allow them to launch attacks against threats, real or imagined.

Another thing that should be pointed out is if China can be counted on to adhere to such a code of conduct.

Time and again China has shown that it doesn’t think twice about thumbing its nose at international treaties and rulings. Latest case in point, that ruling by The Hague declaring their Nine-Dash Line claim as baseless.

What assurance can China provide that if ever a code of conduct is created and agreed upon by all parties that it will stick to it?