Oil Diplomacy Editor
Eyeing problems for the region’s oil and gas industry, ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were urged to speed up talks with China on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.
“I asked the foreign ministers…to step up…efforts, to complete that last mile on this important confidence-building document,” said Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Indonesia’s president, delivering the keynote address at last week’s ASEAN meeting, referred to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOCP) in the South China Sea.
The DOCP was adopted in 1992 but not signed by ASEAN and China until 2002. Not much has been done since. In his speech, Yudhoyono said the guidelines for the DOCP are long overdue.
“Things do not necessarily have to be this slow,” he said. No, they certainly do not, and the situation in the South China Sea clearly warrants attention from countries in the region.
After all, it’s home to one of the world’s most important sea lanes—a key chokepoint according the US Energy Information Administration—and to as-yet untold reserves of oil and gas.
Not least, tensions have spiked recently as nations step up oil exploration, especially near the Spratly Islands, claimed in whole or part by six governments.
If ASEAN ministers had any qualms about supporting the measure in the face of an increasingly rampant China, they at least had the verbal support of two very powerful US Senators: John Kerry of Massachusetts and John McCain of Arizona.
That support took the form of a letter from the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations signed by both men and addressed to China’s State Councilor Dai Bingguo, the country’s top official for foreign policy.
The letter was well-timed, too, coming just days ahead of the ASEAN meeting, and coming from Democratic and Republican leaders such as Kerry and McCain provided a sure sign of broad-based and powerful US support.
“We appreciate China’s public statements in support of peace, stability, and established international law,” the two Senators wrote. However, they also noted China’s apparent falling away from these aims: “The assertive measures taken by China against foreign vessels in the South China Sea, coupled with expansive claims of ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over those waters, seems at odds with China’s clearly expressed preference for a peaceful, negotiated resolution of South China Sea disputes.”
Kerry and McCain went on to echo Yudhoyono in a very pointed way; they urged Beijing to redouble its efforts within the China-ASEAN joint working group to implement the 2002 DOCP.
Doing so, they said, “would help reassure China’s neighbors and build trust and confidence.”