World leaders are gathering in Phnom Penh, Cambodia this week for the East Asia Summit. Photo credit: @ax.
India‘s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has said his country supports efforts to establish a Code of Conduct between ASEAN and China to govern the South China Sea. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard also voiced support for the plan ahead of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia this week.
Gillard has reportedly discussed the matter with outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and (probably outgoing) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. China has historically been reluctant to discuss territorial matters at international forums, preferring to deal with matters bilaterally. However, support amongst other Asian nations for an official Code of Conduct is growing, as are Taiwanese calls for similar rules governing the East China Sea.
Prime Minister Gillard told ABC News that Australia’s position was that “it is in everybody’s interest that issues in the South China Sea are managed in a peaceful way in accordance with international law”.
“We do believe that a code of conduct would assist with making sure that any issues in the South China Sea, any conduct there, could be managed in accordance with the code, that is, that the rules and manner of responses would be predictable and knowable.”
The East Asia Summit is intended as a forum to discuss economic ties, something Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kao Kim Hourn emphasised when he advised against “internationalizing” (read: involving America) disputes about the South China Sea. Despite Cambodia’s apparent reluctance to push for Chinese action on a Code of Conduct, other SE Asian nations have indicated they will not be so cautious. “Other ASEAN countries may not follow what Cambodia prefers,” according to Li Mingjiang of Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “At the same time, it’s very likely that external powers, other countries like the U.S., Japan, India, Australia, will discuss the South China Sea issue at the East Asia Summit. This is something that Cambodia just cannot prevent from taking place.”
After discussions over the South China Sea broke down in an ASEAN meeting in July, Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario denounced China’s “pressure, duplicity, [and] intimidation” of smaller nations.
US President Barack Obama is attending the meeting, which he previously called the “premier” arena to discuss maritime security and territorial matters.