HONG KONG (Reuters) – Difficult negotiations are planned for a new pact between China and the Southeast Asian nations aimed at easing tensions in the South China Sea as Vietnam pushes for deficits that prove disagreeable to Beijing could.
Hanoi wants the pact to cover many of the actions that China has taken in recent years on the hotly disputed waterways, including artificial island construction, blockades and offensive weapons such as missile deployments, according to a negotiated draft of the ASEAN Code of Conduct (COC) Reuters seen.
The draft also indicates that Hanoi is pushing for a ban on any new air-raid labeling zone ̵
Hanoi also calls on states to clarify their maritime claims in the important trade route under international law – an obvious attempt to destroy the controversial "nine-stroke line" that China uses to design the bulk of the South China Sea and patrolled indicates.
"In the future, there will be some very controversial talks between the Vietnamese and China, especially as regards the text of this agreement," said Ian Storey of Singapore, a seasoned South China marine specialist who has seen the draft.
"Vietnam includes those points or activities that should be banned by the Code of Conduct, just because China has been doing so for ten years."
Le Thi Thu Hang, a spokeswoman for the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry, said that some progress had recently been made in the negotiations on the Code of Conduct, with Vietnam being active and showing other countries "their constructive and cooperative spirit".
"Vietnam wishes related countries to continue their efforts and make a positive contribution to the negotiation process in order to achieve a substantial and effective COC in accordance with international law, in particular the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which contributes to the maintenance of peace Stability and safety in the East Sea (South China Sea) in particular and in the region in general, "she said.
Singapore's Foreign Ministry, chairman of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc for 2018, did not respond to a request for comment.
"We can not say anything now, but Thailand supports the discussion on the only negotiation bill," said Busadee Santipitaks, a spokeswoman for the Thai Foreign Ministry, which will take over ASEAN's presidency this year.
China seeks prohibition of outsider exercises
The draft also confirms earlier reports that China intends to block military exercises with foreign powers in the South China Sea, unless all signatories agree.
"This is unacceptable," a Southeast Asian diplomat told Reuters, explicitly referring to the proposed ban on military exercises with countries outside the region.
In a statement sent to Reuters, China's Foreign Ministry said the negotiations on the Code were confidential and could not comment on its content.
The next round of working-level talks is expected to take place in Myanmar in the first quarter of next year, the Southeast Asian diplomat said.
In August, Chinese and ASEAN officials celebrated the original negotiating text as a milestone and breakthrough when it was approved by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and China.
It will be negotiated next year by high-ranking representatives of ASEAN and China and has not yet been released to the public.
Chinese PM Li Keqiang demanded last month that the pact be sealed by 2021. A timetable that some emissaries and analysts are skeptical of can be achieved.
"There is a lot of hard work ahead of us – this number just seems to have been blown out of the air," said an elderly Asian diplomat.
The Code builds on a previous statement on the South China Sea signed in 2002 between ASEAN and China.
This document did not prevent the important international trade route as a regional focus between China's military advancement and its extensive program of island construction on controversial reefs since 2014.
The United States and other regional powers, including Japan and India, are not on involved in the negotiations, but are keenly interested in the waterway that connects Northeast Asia with the Middle East and Europe.
Several countries, including Japan, India, Britain and Australia, have joined the United States to progressively increase naval operations in the South China Sea. They are often shadowed by Chinese naval ships.
Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam's military and diplomacy at the Australian Defense Force Academy, said Hanoi will prove to be a tough negotiator but need support from the other ASEAN members to keep a clear line against China.
The Philippines successfully challenged Beijing's claims to the South China Sea in 2016 in an international arbitration, but they reversed the policy under President Rodrigo Duterte who avoided the confrontation with China by borrowing billions and billions in investment ensures its infrastructure program.
The 19-page design remains vague in important areas, including the exact geographic scope, whether it is legally binding and how disputes are resolved.
Bonnie Glaser, a regional security expert at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington, said she believes that China's more controversial proposals would prove unacceptable to some key ASEAN members as well as the United States and its allies.
"The people I talked to in the US government say it's clearly the best proof that China wants to push the US out of the region," she said.