ASEAN and China have taken another important step to ensure peace and stability in the South China Sea by setting up a joint working group to study and recommend confidence-building activities.

The joint working group will help translate into concrete cooperation activities the provisions in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) issued by the Governments of the 10 Member Countries of ASEAN and China in November 2002.

Under the DOC, cooperation activities may include: marine environmental protection, marine scientific research, safety of navigation and communication at sea, search and rescue operation, and combating transnational crime.

The joint working group will also undertake a registration of experts and eminent persons who may provide technical inputs and non-binding professional views or policy recommendations to the group of official representatives of the 11 Governments.

A meeting of senior officials from ASEAN and China, held in Kuala Lumpur on 7 December 2004, adopted the terms of reference of the joint working group.

Co-chairing the meeting, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Cambodia, and Mr. Wu Dawei, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, expressed similar optimism and confidence that the implementation of the DOC, including the establishment of the joint working group, would contribute significantly to enhancing peace and stability in the South China Sea. (Cambodia co-chaired the meeting in its capacity as ASEAN’s country coordinator in the ASEAN-China dialogue partnership.)

ASEAN and China believe that confidence building activities between them in the South China Sea will create a conducive environment for peaceful settlement of the overlapping sovereignty claims over disputed areas in the South China Sea among Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam on the ASEAN side, and China.

See the terms of reference of the joint working group here.