Sunday, June 28, 2015

• Why is China hesitating to go to ICJ over South China Sea claims, asks Koh Tsu Koon

BEIJING: Asean representatives have urged China to speed up negotiations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea to move another step forward and settle territorial disputes.

"From the perspective of Asean as small countries, we are concerned of the South China Sea disputes and geo-politics (in the region), on how it could affect us," said Malaysia's Wawasan Open University (WOU) Pro-Chancellor Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

He said if the disputes could not be solved through negotiations, it could be taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

"If China is so confident about its historical and legal basis of the claims in the disputed water, why does it hesitate to go to the International Court of Justice?," he asked.

Koh was speaking at a forum themed, 'The Southeast Asian Conflicts and Security Cooperation' here Sunday.

Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China was a large sea-faring nation one thousand years ago and hence, for sure, China was the first country to discover, use and administer the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha Islands in Chinese.

Koh said all Asean countries had accepted ICJ as a common platform to resolve problems.

Distinguished Fellow of Singapore Nanyang Technological University, Barry Desker pointed out that despite Singapore, Indonesia and Cambodia not being involved in the South China Sea dispute, the nations nevertheless, had the same view on that.

For instance, he said the ICJ had solved cases like sovereignty over Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge which involved Malaysia and Singapore, as well as claims over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Despite the current land reclamation in the disputed water becoming a source of concern for Asean countries, however, he said Asean had the desire to promote cooperation with China as there was interest in expanding trade and investment, among others, with China.

"That's why, many Asean nations are supporting the Maritime Silk Road concept mooted by China," noted Desker.

Meanwhile, China Institute of International Studies vice-president Ruan Zongze pointed out that Asean had urged China to accelerate talks on the COC.

However, the Philippines on the other hand had sought the international tribunal in the disputes while the COC was still under negotiation.

On the South China Sea territorial claims, Koh, who is also Wawasan Education Foundation chairman said although Asean was known as a group, the 10-member bloc did not put a very strong stance to support the Philippines.

However, most of the Asean speakers echoed China's recent extensive claim in the South China Sea which had created potential conflict in the region.

Asean and China had signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002, to create a legally binding agreement in the form of a COC.

However, more than a decade later, a COC has yet to be concluded. – Bernama

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