ASEAN's problem in agreeing on the wording highlights China's growing influence at a time of uncertainty over whether the new USA administration will prioritize relations with ASEAN, and try to check Beijing's controversial maritime activities.
Foreign ministers from South-east Asia and China have adopted the framework of a code of conduct (COC) to manage disputes in the South China Sea, paving the way for negotiations on an actual code to take place by year's end.
The U.S., Japan and Australia called on the Philippines and China on Monday to abide by the ruling of an worldwide tribunal which invalidated Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.
Sixth, to build new pillars for people-to-people exchanges and cooperation, ensure the success of the China-ASEAN Tourism Cooperation Year, and issue a joint statement on tourism cooperation so as to consolidate public support and social foundation for bilateral relations.
"The Foreign Ministers are scheduled to discuss and exchange views on matters relating to regional and global issues of common interest such as developments in the South China Sea; situation in the Korean Peninsula; terrorism and extremism; maritime security and other non-traditional security issues", the ministry said in a statement.
Cambodia, one of China's strongest allies within ASEAN, has firmly resisted, according to the diplomats involved in the talks in Manila, as well as an excerpt of proposed Cambodian resolution obtained by AFP on Sunday.
Singaporean Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said it was still premature to conclude the outcome of the negotiations for the code of conduct (COC), which will be done by lawyers. "But the Philippines is trying very hard to broker compromise language".
Australia, Japan and the U.S. yesterday urged Southeast Asia and China to ensure that a South China Sea code of conduct they have committed to draw up will be legally binding and said they strongly opposed "coercive unilateral actions".
The leaders of the ASEAN countries would be meeting this Sunday in Philippine's capital Manila to discuss a wide variety of issues. In 2016, an worldwide court rejected China's bid to secure rights to more than 80% of the South China Sea.
"Beijing's task has been made easier because the Philippines holds the (ASEAN) chair this year".
Beijing cites historical usage records as a basis for its claim to the sea extending from its south coast to Borneo. The court said that, in effect, no country had sovereign rights over the rocky outcrop, therefore entitling all countries with overlapping claims to use its resources.
Following the court decision past year, Duterte himself said that he told Chinese leader Xi Jinping that he planned drilling explorations in the area.