Philippines calls for 'gentlemen's agreement' between ASEAN, China on sea code

Still image from a United States Navy video purportedly shows Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands

Tensions are already flaring up in the South China Sea, but things just got a lot more flammable - literally.

On Thursday, China and the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced that they had finalized a framework for a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea. In recent months, however, China and ASEAN appear to have made swift progress. That document saw all eleven parties pledge their commitment to eventually conclude a binding code of conduct.

China-Philippines relations have seen "a lovely turn around", Liu told the press Thursday, adding that China highly appreciates the positive, friendly and constructive attitude adopted by the Duterte government.

Consensus on setting up the BCM was reached at the diplomatic consultations between the two foreign ministries this January, the release said. ASEAN has always been divided over the issue of the South China Sea, with some of the non-claimant states in particular (with the notable exception of Indonesia and Singapore) having expressed reservations about pushing back too hard against Beijing on the issue. China's delegation will be led by China's deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has downplayed that ruling as part of his push for a broad improvement in relations between the sides since taking office in June that has cast a shadow over Manila's ties to its longtime ally, the United States.

"We intend to drill oil there, if it's yours, well, that's your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours", Duterte said in a speech, recalling his conversation with Xi.

Finally, China's One Belt, One Road summit concluded early this week, further as the world's leading proponent of free trade and globalization.

The country's claims have been objected by neighbouring nations including Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

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The RSN assets will include Supreme, Formidable and Victory vessels, as well as a maritime patrol aircraft Fokker F50 and the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 aircraft.

Until recently, progress has been slow amid disputes over the body of water that China claims virtually in its entirety.

The parties agreed to "manage and properly control maritime disputes, not take any actions to complicate the situation or expand the dispute, and maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea".

Beijing expresses strong opposition whenever USA naval ships pass through the area, even though it maintains there is no threat to freedom of navigation.

In Indonesia, four soldiers were killed and eight were wounded in a naval exercise near the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea when a Chinese-manufactured anti-aircraft gun malfunctioned.

China on Friday said that it is not against the India-Singapore joint naval exercises in the South China Sea as long as it doesn't "hurt" other countries' interest. Ben Lowsen suggests that the expansion of Chinese "gray zone" operations (i.e., the pursuit of military objectives by non-military forces) poses a threat to worldwide order, and requires a response from the United States.

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