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Development and Settlement of Disputes

Assessing the ASEAN-China Framework for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea

Author: Ian Storey

ISEAS Perspective, 8 August 2017


Executive Summary

  • In Manila on 6 August 2017, the foreign ministers of ASEAN and China endorsed the framework for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC).
  • While the framework is a step forward in the conflict management process for the South China Sea, it is short on details and contains many of the same principles and provisions contained in the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which has yet to be even partially implemented.
  • The text includes a new reference to the prevention and management of incidents, as well as a seemingly stronger commitment to maritime security and freedom of navigation. However, the phrase “legally binding” is absent, as are the geographical scope of the agreement and enforcement and arbitration mechanisms.
  • The framework will form the basis for further negotiations on the COC. Those discussions are likely to be lengthy and frustrating for those ASEAN members who had hoped to see a legally binding, comprehensive and effective COC.

Download the full analysis at 


About the author: Ian Storey is Senior Fellow and editor of Contemporary Southeast Asia at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.


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