Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea

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ASIA MAPS — PERRY-CASTAÑEDA MAP COLLECTION- SOUTH CHINA SEA
ASIA MAPS — PERRY-CASTAÑEDA MAP COLLECTION: SOUTH CHINA SEA (ISLANDS) 1988

Jakarta, IO – China and 10 ASEAN nations formally signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November 2002. The creation of the Declaration is a diplomatic event of considerable significance in the history of China-ASEAN ties, and even in the history of international relations, showing China and ASEAN nations’ combined knowledge and spirit of cooperation. 

It is clear to the international community that China and the ASEAN nations have played a leading and promoting role in promoting the stabilization and improvement of the situation in the South China Sea over the past 20 years by actively implementing the goals and principles outlined in the Declaration and the maritime pragmatic cooperation arrangements advocated. 

The signing of the “Declaration” is also a first step by the South China Sea’s neighbors to establish guidelines for the region’s law and order. The “Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” (COC) is an agreement between China and the ASEAN nations that aims to reach a compromise, find areas of agreement while retaining disagreements, end intervention, and be finished as quickly as feasible. “Guidelines” to discuss a final draft that satisfies the parties’ needs. 

The Importance of the Manifesto’s Term 

The “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” is a political declaration that, despite its brief length, aims to manage the problem and foster collaboration. In contrast to international treaties, it has no binding authority. This region’s practice is very significant. It contributed significantly to the South China Sea’s relative quiet for a protracted length of time after it was signed and before the United States began implementing its “Asia-Pacific Rebalancing” policy. 

A effective method used by China and the 10 ASEAN nations to manage and regulate the South China Sea conflicts through procedures, rules, and norms without the involvement of outside forces is the “Declaration.” The territorial sovereignty of various islands and reefs in the Nansha Islands and their claims of maritime jurisdiction have been a source of contention between China and Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and some other Southeast Asian nations since the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

Prior to the Declaration’s adoption, there were numerous maritime encounters and disputes brought on by other claimant nations’ illegitimate occupancy of islands and reefs, independent oil and gas development and production, and illegitimate detention of Chinese fishermen. China and the ASEAN nations made a ground-breaking move with the “Declaration” to establish regulations to try to control the situation in the South China Sea. a set of guidelines for behavior and conduct, as well as tools for effective cooperation. 

The Declaration has evolved into a roadmap and programmatic statement for the nations bordering the South China Sea in order to foster collaboration, manage tensions, and collectively advance peace and stability in the region. The commitment to “maintain self-restraint and refrain from taking measures that complicate, amplify, or otherwise have an adverse effect on peace and stability” is as explicit as the clause stating that “the sovereign states directly concerned shall peacefully resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes through friendly consultation and negotiation.” 

Specifically, the “Declaration” calls for cooperation in the areas of environmental protection, scientific research, waterway safety, search and rescue, and combating transnational crimes. It also calls for an end to the occupation of uninhabited islands and reefs, dialogues between defense and military officials, voluntary disclosure of joint military drills, and all of the above. 

The Declaration provides a sound basis and makes discussion of the Guidelines a sensible place to start. In essence, the “Code” and the “Declaration” constitute one cohesive organism. The “Declaration” makes it clear that all parties should see the creation of a “Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” as their ultimate objective as a “phased achievement” and a “early harvest” for China and ASEAN nations to create regional norms in the South China Sea. Frameworks for negotiations and frames of reference. China and the ASEAN nations have used the Declaration’s key code of behavior and principles, conversation and communication channels, and maritime cooperation efforts as a springboard for developing the “Code.” 

What is revealed by the Declaration? 

Countries in the region may settle marine claims and jurisdictional disagreements amongst them, as evidenced by the Declaration’s ratification and execution. Out of their own strategic concerns and interests, certain claimant countries and even non-regional nations have questioned for some time whether China and the ASEAN nations can resolve the complicated conflicts in the South China Sea. For resolving disputes in the South China Sea, it is the first choice. 

In order to encourage the implementation of the DOC, China and the ASEAN nations have developed mechanisms such the “Senior Officials Meeting” and “Joint Working Group Meeting” during the last 20 years. It is essential to keep the South China Sea situation stable generally because it shows that China and the ASEAN nations are perfectly capable of handling their differences, avoiding disputes, and fostering cooperation through institutional development.