China is planning to host a meeting with members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to come up with a "preliminary agreement" on a framework for a "code of conduct" (COC) in an initiative to ease tensions over conflicts in the disputed waterway of the South China Sea.
"Maybe by that time, we will have made significant progress on the framework," Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said at a news briefing on the sidelines of President Rodrigo Duterte's official visit to Thailand on Wednesday.
"Now, the purpose of the Code is to see how we can manage our disputes carefully. Not to raise tensions, not to escalate tensions, and that's the whole idea of a code. So all countries, even though we may have some disputes, we have to behave and deal with each other in a way that doesn't lead to conflict but rather promotes cooperation," he added.
Earlier, Manalo had said that a draft of the framework is already being circulated to get Asean's 10 member states to sign it. The framework was first raised during a senior Asean officials' meeting in the resort island of Boracay in the Philippines last month.
"I'm not saying it will happen, but the hope of everyone is that by the time we get to the meeting in May, the senior officials... may be able to already have at least a preliminary agreement on the framework," he said.
However, Manalo declined to discuss specifics about the framework. He only said that it will incorporate elements that have already been agreed upon under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. In the declaration, the two sides agreed to "exercise self-restraint" to prevent actions that could "complicate or escalate disputes".
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said at the Boracay meeting that Asean was looking at concluding the COC framework by June 2017.
Since 2002, a COC has been in the making but the final outcome has been very slow. Asean has been elusive, while China insisted on conditions that have made it difficult to reach a compromise.
In 2016 July, a ruling from a tribunal declined China's vast territorial claims in the South China Sea. Following the ruling, Beijing sought to have a COC framework ready by the middle of this year.
The COC is expected to put legal rules and guidelines on avoiding conflicts arising from other rival claims by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over all or parts of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade passes through every year.