Thayer Consultancy

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Background Brief: South China Sea: China and the Code of Conduct Carlyle A. Thayer August 23, 2012

[client name deleted] We would like your assessment of the current South China Sea disputes. In particular, we are looking at the strategy of China and some of the other claimants. As you know, China's official position is that it intends to participate in the formulation of a new Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea “when the time is ripe”. However, China’s recent interactions with ASEAN and its activities in disputed maritime zones make it appear as if China isn't really on board with this process, and as if it actually favours the status quo (despite the security risks). So our questions are: -Does China wish to avoid the formulation of a robust new COC, and, if so, why? ANSWER: China first wants to see the DOC [Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea] cooperative activities get off the ground before moving into substantial discussions on the COC. The current ASEAN draft COC is not all that robust. China wants to be seen to be negotiating with ASEAN in good faith to keep the US out. - What kind of provisions does China want to keep out of the new COC? ANSWER: China will not accept anything that is mandatory. China does not want any aspect of the COC to touch on a resolution of sovereignty disputes. China insists on bilateral negotiation on sovereignty issues. -Are some of the ASEAN claimants also undermining COC-drafting process? ANSWER: The Philippines made major concessions. ASEAN has agreed to the key elements of their draft and they adopted it unanimously. They will be considering some additional inputs from Indonesia. ASEAN would like to negotiate the key principles before focusing on the wording of the text.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “South China Sea: China and the Code of Conduct,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, August 23, 2012. Thayer Consultancy Background Briefs are archived and may be accessed at:

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