Cambodia said it was time to transform the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) into a code of conduct to achieve regional peace and stability.
A code of conduct in the South China Sea is badly needed to avoid violations and confrontation among all concerned countries, including Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, said Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhom.
The mineral-rich warm waters of the South China Sea have been the subject of a persisting dispute between China, regional countries, and the US and its allies.
The DoC is a South China Sea conduct agreement signed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China in November 2002, marking the first time China had accepted a multilateral agreement on the issue.
The minister made the remarks during an interview with the state-run AKP news agency, parts of which were released on Thursday.
As the current chair of ASEAN, he said, Cambodia “remains committed to addressing the pending regional issue on the South China Sea.”
This year marks 20 years of the DoC, which was signed in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
“It is long enough to transform the declaration into a code of conduct for regional peace and stability,” he added.
“The code of conduct,” he continued, “could have been agreed upon in the previous years, but it was delayed as countries were occupied with the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Sokhom foresaw potential tension, according to the AKP report, “due to different views among concerned countries when finalizing the code.”
However, he said “political will” among the parties to address the issue “peacefully will allow the code to be signed off.”
The Cambodian top diplomat said in the past two decades the content and comprehensiveness of the DoC “has been enriched, making it a more practical guide for compliance.”
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam are all ASEAN members with coasts to the South China Sea.
The maritime body has been claimed by China and several other regional countries.
China’s claims are based on its “nine-dash line” on official maps that represent Beijing’s historical claims to the South China Sea.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated China’s claims over the resource-rich sea.
The DoC completes two decades this year, with ASEAN and China planning events to commemorate the occasion.