ASEAN, China eye completion of draft South China Sea code by 2019

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President Rodrigo Duterte (third from the left) at the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Singapore.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 14) — The Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China want significant progress in the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) in a year's time.

"ASEAN and China have seen steady progress in the initial phase of the COC negotiations since the announcement of a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text, and looked forward to the completion of the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text by 2019,"according to the ASEAN-China common statement read by President Rodrigo Duterte in Singapore Wednesday.

This draft will serve as basis for future negotiations as ASEAN states push for a legally-binding COC that will determine what countries can and cannot do in the disputed waters. An initial draft negotiating text was earlier agreed upon by foreign ministers of ASEAN states and China last August.

The ASEAN and China during their 21st summit also vowed to maintain a "conducive environment" for the negotiations.

"As co-chair of the COC negotiations, the Philippines will continue to work closely together with the ASEAN Member States and China for the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC," Duterte said.

The state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that Premier Li Keqiang eyes finishing talks on the code within three years.

"The single draft negotiating text is not merely a technical term, but an indication that China and ASEAN have reached consensus on ensuring peace and stability, freedom of overflight and navigation in the South China Sea," Li was quoted saying in the report.

Prior to the ASEAN-China summit, Duterte said in a chance interview with reporters that he would tell China that the COC must be signed "at all cost."

READ: Duterte to China: Tell us the 'kind of behavior' to take in South China Sea  

In the absence of the sea code for now, "ASEAN and China continue to reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight," the joint statement read.

"We also reaffirm the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation, and pursue peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)]," the statement further read.

In a landmark ruling on July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas of the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, based on the UNCLOS, an international treaty to which the Philippines and China are signatories. China has refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling and continues to claim the South China Sea in its entirety.

The Philippines and China have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, along with Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. Although the U.S. is not a claimant country, it conducts freedom-of-navigation operations in the Asian waters and calls out China's alleged militarization of the area.