Jul. 2 – A long-standing dispute between China and the Philippines over territorial rights in the South China Sea continues to fester as the two countries increased naval patrols in the contentious Asian waters.
In January, the Philippines initiated arbitration hearings against China with the United Nations to address alleged incursions by Chinese vessels into Filipino waters. China rejected the allegations, maintaining that it has the sovereign right to operate in the disputed territory.
In a further escalation of rhetoric, China’s state media warned of possible “counterstrikes” if the Philippines continued to occupy waters the Chinese claim as their own. The Philippine’s recently increased its military presence near Second Thomas Shoal, a coral reef both countries claim.
Despite the increase in hostility between China and the Philippines, progress was made this week by China and the ASEAN nations to develop a code of conduct to guide maritime relations in the controversial waters of the South China Sea.
China and the 10-nation ASEAN bloc agreed to hold a forum in September to have an “in-depth exchange of views on the full and effective implementation of the declaration of conduct and enhanced maritime cooperation,” according to a joint statement.
“We have to have the code of conduct, otherwise, uncertainty will prevail,” said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
Stable relations in the South China Sea are integral to the economic infrastructure of Southeast Asia, as it is home to various trade routes which are used to import and export goods around the world.
Disputes are common in the South China Sea due to the abundance of natural resources found within its waters. There are an estimated 7.7 billion barrels worth of oil reserves in the region and 28 billion barrels worth of natural gas. The South China Sea is also the second most heavily trafficked sea-lane in the world and is an important route for the transportation of crude oil, with 10 million barrels passing through its waters each day.
There are currently territorial disputes between China, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia in the South China Sea.
According to the joint statement, China and the ASEAN nations “aim to reach a conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which will serve to enhance peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”
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