ASEAN collaboration, South China Sea to be key issues: analysts
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is expected to kick off his visit to Vietnam and Philippines over the weekend, leading Chinese analysts to note that his trip will further boost understanding, help manage disputes in the South China Sea and maintain hard-won stability in the region.
Wang is scheduled to chair the 11th meeting of the China-Vietnam steering committee on cooperation in Vietnam, and he will also visit the Philippines during his two-nation trip from Saturday to Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.
The steering-committee meeting is expected to further enhance positive diplomatic momentum and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Vietnam, said Geng.
Wang's trip is also expected to implement consensus reached by the leaders of China and the Philippines and enhance coordination between China and ASEAN members, said the spokesperson.
The Philippines has been tasked as the country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations from August 2018 to 2021.
Exploiting South China Sea
As China and ASEAN countries step up negotiations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea and head into "substantial" negotiations, Wang's trip to the two major claimant countries in South China Sea disputes will further enhance consensus and contribute to the finalizing of the COC, said Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow at the Hainan-based National Institute for the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, with countries in the region agreeing to promote stability and manage disputes, detailed talks on the joint exploration of the sea's resources could also get a boost, Chen noted.
Leaders from China and the Philippines are expected to continue discussions on oil and gas cooperation, with the view of coming up with a framework of cooperation that conforms to rules and regulations and international laws, Filipino newspaper Manila Bulletin reported Wednesday, citing a statement from the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs.
In early August, China and the ASEAN agreed on a draft text of the COC during the China-ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting held in Singapore. The consensus on future COC negotiations came one year after the COC framework was endorsed, and 16 years after the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) was signed.
As the intensity of disputes in the South China Sea subside, Wang's trip is a good opportunity for the three countries to explore mechanisms to promote joint exploration and clear disputes and misunderstandings, said Chen.
The biggest uncertainty comes from countries outside the region, such the US and its allies Japan and Australia, said Chen. China needs to prepare for such challenges as long as the US regards the country as its largest "rival," he noted.
In the latest sign of Japan's increased activity in the South China Sea, its Maritime Self-Defense Force's largest vessel, the helicopter carrier Kaga, linked up on August 31 for bilateral exercises with the US Navy's Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group, Japan Times reported on September 1, citing both countries' navies.
Meanwhile, remarks from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also sparked some doubts about Manila's commitment to expand cooperation with Beijing in the South China Sea.
On August 14, Duterte called on China to "temper" its behavior in the South China Sea, warning that tensions could spark an accidental conflict, CNN reported.
Duterte's remarks were made to appease the opposition in the Philippines and his stance on pragmatic cooperation with China in the South China Sea has never changed, especially considering that the Philippines would face the risk of an energy crisis, said Li Kaisheng, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
The South China Sea to contain one of the world's richest reserves for nature gas and oil, but exploitation is also considered among the most technically difficult, said analysts.