The Urgency of a Separate Code of Conduct in the South China Sea

The Urgency of a Separate Code of Conduct in the South China Sea

Amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea, the Philippines has approached neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam to discuss the need for a separate code of conduct in the region. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emphasized the limited progress made towards a broader regional pact with China and highlighted the dire situation that requires cooperation with allies and neighbors in order to maintain peace in the busy waterway.

The Philippines has been increasingly concerned about China’s aggressive behavior, prompting President Marcos to rekindle strong ties with the country’s sole treaty ally, the United States. Speaking at a livestreamed event in Hawaii, Marcos expressed dissatisfaction with the slow progress of the code of conduct negotiations between China and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

To address this issue, the Philippines has taken the initiative to approach countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, with whom they have existing territorial conflicts, to establish their own code of conduct. President Marcos hopes that this collaborative effort will expand to include other ASEAN countries, fostering a stronger alliance in the face of mounting challenges.

While the Chinese, Malaysian, and Vietnamese embassies in Manila have yet to respond to the possibility of a separate code of conduct, talks between Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum indicate a shared interest in reducing tensions in the disputed waters. This has become a pressing matter as confrontations between China and neighboring countries have become more frequent in recent years.

Negotiations for a code of conduct have faced delays, as concerns arise regarding China’s commitment to a binding set of rules aligned with existing international law. China’s claim over the South China Sea, as denoted by the infamous “nine-dash line” on their maps, has encroached significantly into the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

China’s assertiveness in pressing its maritime claims has alarmed neighboring countries and other nations operating in the key trade route, notably the United States. China has transformed submerged reefs into military installations, equipping them with radar systems, runways, and missile systems, some of which fall within the Philippines’ EEZ. This increasingly dire situation has raised concerns about the security of the Philippines’ coastline.

In contrast, President Marcos emphasized the unwavering support of the United States, not only in rhetoric but also in concrete measures. As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, the urgency for the establishment of a separate code of conduct grows, ensuring the preservation of peace and stability in the region.


1. What is the South China Sea dispute?

The South China Sea dispute involves competing territorial claims over various islands, reefs, and waters in the region. Countries such as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims, leading to tensions and confrontations.

2. What is a code of conduct in the South China Sea?

A code of conduct in the South China Sea refers to a set of rules and principles that govern the behavior of countries involved in the dispute. It aims to address conflicts, prevent escalation, and maintain peace and stability in the region.

3. Why is a separate code of conduct necessary?

The Philippines and other countries in the region have approached the idea of a separate code of conduct due to limited progress in negotiations with China. The pressing need for stability in the South China Sea necessitates immediate collaboration among neighboring countries and allies to address the escalating tensions.

Source: Reuters