Şimal Çınar –TDO- The Defense Minister of Singapore, which is the country that is chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2018, talked about the century-old dispute over the South China Sea on Wednesday and said that the ASEAN is hoping to speed up negotiations on establishing a code of conduct with China.

Defense Ministers of ASEAN member countries have approved a negotiation framework on establishing a code of conduct for addressing matters related to the South China Sea, which they hope to have ready by August.

Even though this conclusion of the negotiation framework between ASEAN and China is seen as a sign of progress, the failure to outline the need to make the code legally binding raised doubts about the effectiveness of the pact. Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the waterway has long been a goal for claimant members of ASEAN. “We hope it will be expedited but it’s a very, very complex issue” Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen told reporters after a gathering of ASEAN defense chiefs.

South China Sea is a host of several disputed islands, including the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands that are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves. China’s territorial claims to the Spratly Islands clashes with those of the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Paracel Islands are also contested by Taiwan and Vietnam. Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday some of his ASEAN colleagues had expressed concerns about ongoing activities by China in the disputed areas. Thus, Singapore hosted meetings of the group’s foreign and defense ministers this week. 

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