China dodged signing a code of conduct this week at the East Asia Summit, a regional security meeting.
Here they go again. Asian governments with overlapping claims to the South China Sea are working this week toward a code of conduct for handling the frequent upsets between competing naval ships.
The agreement, raised at the Association of South East Asian Nations in Cambodia, would be the 10th covering essentially the same territorial dispute since the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The idea is that it would spell out what ships should do to avoid a clash but it wouldn't actually spell out how to resolve competing claims, according to regional news media.
So what’s the big deal behind this year’s deal – besides calming nervous people onshore and making their leaders look like saintly peacemakers?
The deal doesn't really work unless China, the one that all the others are worried about, agrees to it. But China is leaning against adding its signature. It wants to keep an upper hand in the dispute, especially with the recent US push to focus on Asia.
“China says there needs to be greater confidence and trust building – there’s a sense that China is being told what to do,” says Bonnie Glaser, senior fellow with the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The risk is, it becomes a voluntary agreement, and in that case, it's completely meaningless,” she adds.