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After its initial reluctance, China is now urging members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to complete the code of conduct on the South China Sea before 2021, when President Rodrigo Duterte’s three year turn as chairman of the regional ends.

Nikkei Asia editor-in-chief Toru Takahashi said the three-year deadline was “unilaterally imposed” by China Premier Li Keqiang to take advantage of Duterte’s soft stance on China.

Takahashi said China also insisted that the negotiations be made with Asean not as a group but individually or on a bilateral basis with each of its 10 members.

“That reflected China’s position the territorial disputes are bilateral issues between it and each of the four ASEAN members concerned (Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei). This approach maximizes its leverage and allows it to flex its muscles, if necessary, to get its own way,” said Takahashi.

Takahash said China has three demands on how the code of conduct should be drafted.

This includes nullifying the Philippines’ hard-earned victory in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) tribunal ruling on July 2016 which voided China’s claim on the South China Sea.

“According to diplomatic sources, China has three basic demands regarding the code of conduct: It should not be covered by the Unclos treaty; joint military exercises with countries outside the region must have the prior consent of all parties to the agreement; and no resource development should be conducted with countries outside the region,” said Takahashi.

“ASEAN cannot accept these demands because they would invalidate the tribunal’s ruling on China’s nine-dash line, and because they areaimed at curtailing the regional influence of the U.S. and Europe. ‘ASEAN is in no rush, and has no intention to finalize the COC by compromising strangely’, one diplomatic source said,” he added.

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